December 19, 1956 – Martin Luther King, Jr. & William J. Powell Issue Integrated Bus Suggestions

On this day in history, Martin Luther King, Jr. and William J. Powell (Pastor of Old Ship A.M.E. Zion Church in Montgomery, Alabama from 1953 to 1964) issued guidelines on behalf of “The Montgomery Improvement Association” to mitigate potential conflicts in the coming transition to integrated busing.


In June of 1956, a federal district court had ruled, in Browder v. Gayle (352 U.S. 903, 1956), that segregation on Alabama’s intrastate buses was unconstitutional, citing Brown v. Board of Education as precedent for the verdict. On November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a one line per curiam affirmance of Browder.

On 17 December 1956, the Supreme Court rejected city and state appeals to reconsider their decision, and three days later the order for integrated buses arrived in Montgomery. Dr. King signaled the official end of the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott by issuing a statement on December 20 to that effect, and boarding an integrated bus himself on Dec. 21, 1956.  Also boarding a bus on December 21 as Rosa Parks, who got on a bus driven by James F. Blake, the bus driver who had had her arrested. She reported that he didn’t react at all, and neither did she.

The Montgomery Bus Segregation System

The Montgomery Bus Segregation System

Yet of course, the troubles did not end. Shots were fired at the buses and bombing attacks were carried out on prominent black leaders. But the success of the boycott also led to the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as its president.

December 11, 2013 – Michigan lawmakers Approve Right to Life Abortion Insurance Initiative

On this day in history, Michigan lawmakers passed a measure banning all insurance plans in the state from covering abortion unless the woman’s life was considered to be in danger. Women and employers were permitted to purchase a separate abortion rider if they wanted the procedure covered, even in the case of rape or incest.

“This tells women who were raped … that they should have thought ahead and planned for it,” said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) during debates. But supporters of the “Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act” argued that it allows people who are opposed to abortion to avoid paying into a plan that covers it.

According to the Guttmacher Institute (dedicated to the advancement of sexual and reproductive health and rights through an interrelated program of research, policy analysis and public education), more state abortion restrictions enacted in 2011–2013 than in entire previous decade. Twenty-two states enacted 70 abortion restrictions in 2013; only 2011 saw more new abortion restrictions put in place in a single year. Moreover, 205 abortion restrictions were enacted over the past three years (2011–2013), compared with just 189 over the previous decade (2001–2010).

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 7.25.16 AM

December 8, 1863 – Lincoln Issues An Amnesty Proclamation

On this day in history, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation granting amnesty to all citizens of the rebellious southern states who would take an oath of loyalty to the Union and swear to abide by all Federal laws and proclamations in reference to slavery made during the period of the rebellion. Six classes of persons were excluded from the benefits of the amnesty:

Civil or diplomatic agents or officials of the Confederacy

Persons who left judicial posts under the United States to aid the rebellion

Confederate military officerrs above the rank of Army colonel or Navy Lieutenant

Members of the U.S.Congress who left to aid in the rebellion

Persons who resigned commissions in the U.S. ARmy or Navy and afterward aided in the rebellion

Persons who treated unlawfully black prisoners of war and their white officers.

However, the declaration of amnesty did not specify who would administer the oath to those southerners who desired to take it. On March 26, 1864, Lincoln issued another proclamation which designated “any commissioned officer, civil, military, or naval in the service of the United States” to administer the oath, as well as those persons in the territories which were “not in insurrection who were by the laws therefore qualified for administering oaths.” It also added a seventh exception to eligibility: persons in military or cvilian confinement or custody.

You can read a text of the December proclamation here.

Abraham Lincoln in November, 1863

Abraham Lincoln in November, 1863

Review of “John Marshall: The Chief Justice Who Saved The Union” by Harlow Giles Unger

Unger takes the interesting approach of illuminating the contributions of John Marshall to the protection and preservation of the Constitution by describing the many ways in which Thomas Jefferson sought to subvert it. This book will educate readers about the actual operations of the early republic, rather than the usual “patriotic” myths fed to students of history. Although revered as a “Founding Father,” Jefferson was in truth often interested more in advancing his own ideas and ambition than in honoring the Constitution.


Marshall’s legacy as the 4th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was the assurance of “the integrity and eminence of the Constitution and the federal government.” Marshall, who was the longest serving Chief Justice in American history, signed over 1,180 decisions, writing 549 of them. As Unger shows:

In the course of his Supreme Court leadership Marshall stood at the center of the most riveting – and most important – courtroom dramas in the nation’s formative years. Case by case he defined, asserted, and when necessary, invented the authority he and the Court needed to render justice, stabilize the federal government, and preserve the Union and its Constitution.”

Because of Marshall’s efforts, the judiciary became an equal branch of the federal government. But it was not a predetermined outcome. When Jefferson didn’t get his way, he used every means at his disposal to try to vitiate the judiciary. To his chagrin, however, even when he appointed his own men to the bench, they became so impressed with Marshall’s erudition, devotion to the law, and integrity, that one by one, they became Marshall men instead of Jefferson men.

To this day, the decisions written or influenced by Marshall continue to shape the American polity. From his opinion in Marbury v. Madison, in which he established the independence of the federal judiciary, to his insistence in U.S. v. Burr that no one, not even the president, is above the law, Marshall made a lasting and positive imprint on the character of the country. And while Jefferson continued to insist, even when retired, that the federal and state governments represented two independent and equal sovereigns, Marshall, in McCulloch v. Maryland, set forth the precedent that state action may not impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the Federal government. The United States would be a radically different place had it not been for “the great,the good, the wise” John Marshall, as he was described by another famous and well-respected Supreme Court Justice, Joseph Story.

Chief Justice John Marshall

Chief Justice John Marshall

Discussion: One reason I like Unger very much as a historian is that he has always been able to avoid portraying the Founding Fathers in sepia tones with golden halos. He is not loathe to point out, for example, that Jefferson was a vicious man who operated sub rosa through lackeys to destroy the careers and lives of anyone and everyone who disagreed with him. He is not reluctant to provide evidence for how much of the Declaration of Independence was lifted by Jefferson from other writings, such as those of John Locke, or how pusillanimously Jefferson behaved when the fighting broke out in the American Revolution. He also takes Jefferson to task for his treasonous acts against President John Adams when Jefferson himself was serving as Vice President. (This includes the concealment of evidence by Jefferson that would exonerate Adams from charges of impeachment, a movement for which Jefferson was leading the chorus.) And he doesn’t hesitate to speak of Jefferson’s bribes to members of the press to calumniate his opponents; his threats to start a Civil War if he were not elected in 1800; his blatant disdain of the Constitution when it got in the way of what he wanted to do; and his attempts to emasculate the judiciary so that it could not rule against any of his decisions.

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale

Jefferson largely escapes such a close look at his behavior because of the need for the American narrative to show him as a great man, who joined other great men to create a great nation. Even the recent DNA evidence of Jefferson’s long-time affair with Sally Hemings has been downplayed, and those who acknowledge it are quick to point out Jefferson’s long-standing relationship with her, as if his alleged monogamy would make up for his taking up with a fifteen-year old girl when he was forty-six, a girl who was in his care as a slave, unable not to do his bidding. The entire time she was his mistress, she continued to serve as his slave, in addition to being pregnant almost continuously when he was in town. She was not even freed by his will when he died. But collective memory serves to establish moral, political, and social lessons, and to help form an understanding of who we are as a people. Truth can often fall by the wayside.

Unger, however, has a respect for facts.

He also has a keen eye for those early figures in our history who displayed more character, more nuance, more courage, and more loyalty to the aims of the young country. One of those was John Marshall. This well-written story will keep your attention from beginning to end. Highly recommended!

Rating: 5/5

Published by Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, 2014

December 3, 1901 – President Theodore Roosevelt Advocates “Trust Busting”

On this day in history, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered his first State of the Union address. He spoke in depth about “how to deal with the great industrial combinations,” calling for government supervision and national regulation over all corporations engaging in interstate commerce.

Theodore Roosevelt by John Singer Sargent, 1903

Theodore Roosevelt by John Singer Sargent, 1903

He also encouraged the creation of a Cabinet office, to be known as Secretary of Commerce, to coordinate control of commerce by the national government. He justified his suggestions in this way:

The course proposed is one phase of what should be a comprehensive and far-reaching scheme of constructive statesmanship for the purpose of broadening our markets, securing our business interests on a safe basis, and making firm our new position in the international industrial world; while scrupulously safeguarding the rights of wage-worker and capitalist, of investor and private citizen, so as to secure equity as between man and man in this Republic.”

You can read TR’s speech in its entirety here.

Roosevelt directed his attorney general to begin filing suits against the largest monopolies, and in 1902 the first trust giant to fall victim to Roosevelt’s assault was the most powerful industrialist in the country — J. Pierpont Morgan, who, along with railroad moguls James J. Hill and E. H. Harriman controlled the bulk of railroad shipping across the northern United States. The company was sued under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Eventually, Roosevelt’s administration dissolved 44 trusts, earning TR the sobriquet “Trust Buster.”

May 1906 political cartoon from Puck Magazine showing TR  grappling with J.P. Morgan (on the left) and John D. Rockefeller (on the right).

May 1906 political cartoon from Puck Magazine showing TR grappling with J.P. Morgan (on the left) and John D. Rockefeller (on the right).

December 1, 1742 – Empress Elizabeth Orders Expulsion of Jews from Russia

Elizaveta Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great, seized power in November, 1741 and crowned herself Empress on 25 April 1742.

When she ascended the throne, she proclaimed that “The Russian people have been groaning under the enemies of the Christian faith, but she has delivered them from the degrading foreign oppression.”

Elizabeth of Russia by V. Eriksen

Elizabeth of Russia by V. Eriksen

In futherance of that goal, on this day in history, the Empress issued an Order of expulsion against all Jews in Russia except those prepared to adopt Christianity. When the city of Riga submitted that consideration should be given to the losses that would ensue for the merchants of the city through that expulsion, the Empress wrote with her own hand: “I do not wish to obtain any benefit or profit from the enemies of Jesus Christ.”

Part of the impetus for this action resulted from the outcome of one of her wars with Sweden. Russia had acquired the Baltic territories of Livonia and Courland, which were inhabited by a fairly large Jewish population. Annexation made them all Russian subjects, but the Empress did not want them at all, much less the prospect of their leaving the provinces and coming into Russia proper.

The Empress was relatively enlightened by Russian standards, however. When Tsar Ivan ‘the Terrible’ (1530-84) annexed the town of Pskov, for example, he ordered that all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity be drowned in the river. (Pskov is still known for its anti-Semitism.) And Elizabeth’s father, Peter the Great, declared:

I prefer to see in our midst nations professing Mohammedanism and paganism rather than Jews. They are rogues and cheats. It is my endeavor to eradicate evil, not to multiply it.”

Peter the Great - like father, like daughter

Peter the Great – like father, like daughter

November 25, 1986 – President Reagan Acknowledges Sending Arms to Iran

On this day in history, the “Iran-Contra Scandal” erupted after President Reagan Reagan revealed that profits from secret arms sales to Iran had been diverted to fund Nicaraguan rebels–the Contras–who were fighting a guerrilla war against the democratically elected leftist government of Nicaragua.

President Ronald Reagan shortly after the Iran-contra scandal engulfed his administration in November 1986. (Credit: AP/Dennis Cook)

President Ronald Reagan shortly after the Iran-contra scandal engulfed his administration in November 1986. (Credit: AP/Dennis Cook)

The report caused outrage in Congress, which in 1982 had passed The Boland Amendment (attached to the House Appropriations Bill of 1982 and again attached as a rider to the Defense Appropriations Act of 1983), outlawing U.S. assistance to the Contras for the purpose of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government, while allowing assistance for other purposes.

Nevertheless, Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter, USN, and his deputy, Lt. Colonel Oliver North, USMC, diverted to the Nicaraguan contras millions of dollars in funds received from a secret deal involving the sales of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Iran (in spite of Reagan’s public pledge not to deal with terrorists).

The Administration was not beset by a fit of conscience; rather, a Lebanese magazine, Ash Shiraa, reported on November 3 that the United States had been secretly selling arms to Iran in an effort to secure the release of seven American hostages held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon.

Lt. Colonel Oliver North

Lt. Colonel Oliver North

In 1988, acting on a recommendation made by the Congressional Iran-Contra [investigative] Committee, the Senate approved bipartisan legislation that would have required that the President notify the congressional intelligence committees within 48 hours of the implementation of a covert action if prior notice had not been provided. The House did not vote on the measure.

Then in 1990, Congress tried again to tighten its oversight of covert action. The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a new set of statutory reporting requirements, citing the ambiguous, confusing and incomplete congressional mandate governing covert actions under the then-current law. After the bill was modified in conference, Congress approved the changes, but President George H.W. Bush killed it with a pocket veto.

In 1991, after adding new language pursuant to the objections of President Bush, Congress once again proposed an oversight law. Congress approved and the President signed into law the new measure, now codified as 50 U.S.C. 413b. You can read the provisions here.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 79 other followers