October 29, 1929 – Official Date of the 1929 Stock Market Crash

Four days prior to the big crash, the Republican President of the United States, Herbert Hoover, said, “The fundamental business of the country … is on a sound and prosperous basis.”

Herbert Hoover, circa 1928

Herbert Hoover, circa 1928

Americans at the turn of the 20th Century were known (and reviled) for their passions for speculating, trading, leveraging, and hedging. Walter McDougall’s history of the U.S. from 1929-1877, Throes of Democracy, credits Charles Dickens’s character Martin Chuzzlewit for speaking for foreign visitors when he wrote of American conversation as:

…barren of interest, to say the truth; and the greatest part of it may be summed up in one word: Dollars. All their cares, hopes, joys, affections, virtues, and associations, seemed to be melted down into dollars. … Men were weighed by their dollars, measures gauged by their dollars; life was auctioneered, appraised, put up and knocked down for its dollars.”

By 1929, the stock market had been on a nine-year run that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average increase in value tenfold, peaking on September 3, 1929. But episodes of fraud, forgery, rumor, and panic led to a huge slide in the market. On “Black Tuesday”, October 29, 1929, about sixteen million shares were traded amid rumors that U.S. President Herbert Hoover would not veto the pending Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act. Due to the massive volume of stocks traded that day, the ticker did not stop running until about 7:45 p.m. that evening. The market had lost over $30 billion in the space of two days which included $14 billion on October 29 alone.

Panicked New Yorkers flood Wall Street during the stock market crash on Oct. 29, 1929

Panicked New Yorkers flood Wall Street during the stock market crash on Oct. 29, 1929

October 27, 1858 – Birthdate of Theodore Roosevelt

On this day, the man who would become the 26th President of the United States was born in New York City.

Official White House portrait by John Singer Sargent

Official White House portrait by John Singer Sargent

Roosevelt was 42 years old when sworn in as President of the United States in September 1901, after the assassination of President McKinley. Roosevelt was the youngest person ever to assume office, although the youngest president elected to office was John F. Kennedy (age 43 years, 236 days). Roosevelt was also the first of only three sitting presidents to have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Roosevelt was a fifth cousin to the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he was the uncle and guardian of Franklin’s wife, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. In addition, he was the grandfather of Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., the CIA officer who coordinated the 1953 coup d’état against Iran’s prime minister, Mohammed Mosaddeq, in order to return Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, to Iran’s Peacock Throne. The unabated anger over these actions culminated in the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979.

Upon assuming office, Roosevelt kept McKinley’s Cabinet and promised to continue McKinley’s policies. In the 1904 presidential election, he won the presidency in his own right in a landslide victory. He chose not to run for another term in 1908, and supported William Howard Taft for the presidency.

Parody of Theodore Roosevelt's concern for his legacy by Puck Magazine, February 17, 1909

Parody of Theodore Roosevelt’s concern for his legacy by Puck Magazine, February 17, 1909

The relationship between Roosevelt and Taft deteriorated however, and Roosevelt came to see himself as the only person who could save the Republican party. He announced his candidacy in 1912, but had delayed too long to win enough delegates. Thus he announced the formation of a third party, the Progressive Party, popularly known as the “Bull Moose Party”, which got its name after Roosevelt told reporters, “I’m as fit as a bull moose.”

While Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 14, 1912, a saloonkeeper named John Flammang Schrank shot him, but the impact of the bullet was muted by passing through first, TR’s steel eyeglass case, and next, the 50-page single-folded copy of the speech he was carrying in his jacket. Rooseveltconcluded that since he was not coughing blood, he could wait to go tot he hospital, and delivered his scheduled speech with blood seeping into his shirt. He spoke for 90 minutes, beginning with the line, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” Afterwards, an x-ray showed that the bullet had lodged in Roosevelt’s chest muscle but did not penetrate the pleura, and it would be more dangerous to attempt to remove the bullet than to leave it in place. Roosevelt carried it with him for the rest of his life.

X-Ray of Roosevelt's ribcage showing the bullet at lower left

X-Ray of Roosevelt’s ribcage showing the bullet at lower left

Roosevelt lost the election to Woodrow Wilson, undoubtedly because of the split in Republican party votes. (Roosevelt received 4.1 million votes (27%), compared to Taft’s 3.5 million (23%) and Wilson’s 6.3 million votes (42%). He did gain immortality, however, by being selected as one of four presidents to have his image carved onto Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota. (The other three are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.) The monument was conceived by South Dakota historian Doane Robinson in order to promote tourism in the region, but has come to represent “great American presidents.” Roosevelt would not have objected.

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October 26, 1921 – President Harding Exhorts White Alabamians To Allow Blacks to Vote

On October 26, 1921 President Warren G. Harding visited Birmingham, Alabama, which, founded in 1871, was celebrating fifty years of being a city in the New South. While the Fifteenth Amendment passed in 1869 stated that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the reality was different. “Black Codes”, or state laws that restricted the freedoms of African Americans, managed to obstruct black voting by enforced literacy tests, poll taxes, hiding the locations of the polls, economic pressures, and threats of physical violence.

President Harding arrived at the Birmingham Terminal Station early in the morning to occupy the lead car in a grand parade. He delivered an official address to the city at 11:30 a.m. to a large crowd. Historians report that Harding’s plan was to use this speech to make his first public show of support for the Republican National Committee’s plans to reorganize the party in the South. He argued that race was becoming an issue and could no longer remain a solely regional concern. He spoke of the great migrations of black laborers to the North during World War I, and took note of the service given by black soldiers during the war. Then he audaciously referred to political equality as a guarantee of the U.S. Constitution: “Let the black man vote when he is fit to vote; prohibit the white man voting when he is unfit to vote.” While white listeners fell largely silent, African Americans cheered from their segregated section of the park. Calling for “an end of prejudice” Harding went further than any president since Abraham Lincoln.

Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States

Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States

October 25 – A Good Day to Pick A Fight – Or Not – Depending on Which Side You Are On

Today is the old feast day of Saints Crispin and Crispinian, who, however, were knocked off the liturgical calendar during the reforms of the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

Martyrdom of Saints Crispin and Crispinian by Bossche, 1494

Martyrdom of Saints Crispin and Crispinian by Bossche, 1494

Saints Crispin and Crispinian are the French Christian patron saints of cobblers, tanners, and leather workers. According to legend they preached Christianity to the Gauls and made shoes by night. [Gaul was the region that now corresponds to parts of Belgium, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, and Italy.]

Gaul in 1st Century BC

Gaul in 1st Century BC

The feast day of Saints Crispin and Crispinian is 25 October. However, these saints were removed from the liturgical calendar (but not declared to no longer be saints) during the Catholic Church’s Vatican II reforms. The reasoning used by Vatican II for this decision was that there was insufficient evidence that Saints Crispin and Crispinian actually existed.

But the day has proven fateful for the famous battles that took place on it, including the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the Battle of Balaklava (Charge of the Light Brigade) during the Crimean War in 1854 and the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific theatre in 1944.

The Battle of Agincourt, 15th-century miniature

The Battle of Agincourt, 15th-century miniature

You may remember The Battle of Agincourt from Shakespeare’s play Henry V, in which Henry (the former “Prince Hal”) inspired his men before the battle by declaring them “a band of brothers.” Although the English were outnumbered five to one, they went on to defeat the French at Agincourt.

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”

Want to know more about The Battle of Agincourt? This is an awesome educational video:

October 24, 1972 – Death of Two Civil Rights Pioneers Who Both Refused to Move to the Back of the Bus

On this day in history, both Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson passed away. (Robinson was 53 and Parks was 92).

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. (You can read our post about the details of her act of civil disobedience here.) Many Americans know her story. But on July 6, 1944, Lieutenant Jack Roosevelt (“Jackie”) Robinson also refused to move to the back of the bus, and he received a court martial.

Jackie Robinson in military uniform, 1945

Jackie Robinson in military uniform, 1945

Jackie Robinson, later to become famous as the first black to integrate major league baseball in modern times, was assigned to Camp Hood near Waco, Texas during World War II. Camp Hood had a bad reputation among blacks, not only because of the segregation on the post but also because of the depth of racism in the neighboring towns.

On July 6, 1944, Robinson was riding a bus on the base and sitting next to a fellow officer’s light-skinned wife. The driver instructed Robinson to move to a seat farther back. Robinson argued with him, and when he got off at his stop, the bus dispatcher joined in the altercation. A crowd formed and military policemen arrived. The MPs took Robinson into the station. John Vernon, an archivist at the National Archives (Prologue, Spring 2008), tells what happened next:

…when they arrived at the station to meet with the camp’s assistant provost marshal, a white MP ran up to the vehicle and excitedly inquired if they had ‘the nigger lieutenant’ with them. The utterance of this unexpected and especially offensive racial epithet served to set Robinson off and he threatened ‘to break in two’ anyone, whatever their rank or status, who employed that word.” Robinson continued to show “disrespect” and received a court martial.”

Robinson contacted the NAACP and sought publicity from the Negro press. He also wrote to the U.S. War Department. The white press picked up on the situation as Robinson was a well-known athlete from his days at UCLA. (In his time at UCLA, Robinson won a national championship in track and field, two consecutive conference scoring titles as a basketball player, was an honorable mention All-American in football, and also played a little baseball.) Higher ups were worried about this “political dynamite.”

Jackie Robinson at UCLA

Jackie Robinson at UCLA

At the court martial trial, Robinson’s commanding officer gave a glowing report on his character. His army-appointed defense attorney pointed out inconsistencies in witnesses’ accounts. The attorney also suggested that Robinson’s assertiveness was a legitimate expression of resentment given the racially hostile environment. Ultimately, the court acquitted Robinson of all charges.

While what happened to Robinson was not unique, the outcome of the conflict was unusual. It would more than another decade before blacks were free to sit where they chose on the bus.

October 22, 1962 – President Kennedy Announces His Decision to Blockade Cuba in “The Cuban Missile Crisis”

On this day in history, President Kennedy addressed the nation to announce the discovery of Soviet missile bases in Cuba. These missile sites, under construction but nearing completion, were designed to house medium-range missiles capable of delivering nuclear payloads to a number of major cities in the U.S.

President Kennedy Addressing the Nation, October 22, 1962

President Kennedy Addressing the Nation, October 22, 1962

Kennedy said he was ordering a naval “quarantine” of Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from transporting any more offensive weapons to the island and declared that the United States would not tolerate the existence of the missile sites currently in place. He said America would not stop short of military action to end what he called a “clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace.”

Aerial view of missile launch site at San Cristobal, Cuba. (John F. Kennedy Library)

Aerial view of missile launch site at San Cristobal, Cuba. (John F. Kennedy Library)

On October 23, the quarantine of Cuba began, but Kennedy decided to give Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev more time to consider the U.S. action by pulling the quarantine line back 500 miles. The leaders eventually publicly agreed to a deal in which the Soviets would dismantle the weapon sites in exchange for a pledge from the United States not to invade Cuba. In a separate secret deal, the United States also agreed to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey.

You can watch archival footage of his address here.

October 20, 1803 – Ratification of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty

On this day in history, the U.S. Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase Treaty by a vote of twenty-four to seven. The agreement provided for the purchase of the western half of the Mississippi River basin from France at a price of $15 million, or approximately four cents per acre. The deal doubled the size of the country and paved the way for westward expansion beyond the Mississippi.

All or portions of the following states were carved from the original Louisiana Territory: Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Minnesota.

The Louisiana Purchase is considered the greatest real estate deal in history.

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