July 29, 1958 – Eisenhower Signs the National Aeronautics and Space Act Establishing NASA

On this day in history, President Eisenhower officially established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) when he signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act. Since the federal government had previously acquired the Dolley Madison House, this location was chosen to host the young space agency and thereby became NASA’s first headquarters.

The Dolly Madison House served as NASA Headquarters from 1958 until October 1961.

Now NASA has facilities around the country, and in outer space!

The impetus to establish a space program was the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957.

On November 25, 1957, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson began hearings on American space and missile activities. This led on Feb. 6, 1958 to the creation of a Senate Special Committee on Space and Aeronautics chaired by Johnson. On the House side of Congress the Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration was set up on March 5, chaired by House majority leader John W. McCormack.

President Eisenhower also asked his science advisor to convene a committee to study the matter. By March 5 Eisenhower had a proved a memorandum proposing a civilian space agency built around the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The drafted legislation called for a new agency rather than a strengthened NACA, responding to the criticism of some that NACA had become too lethargic to deal with the onrush of events, and that a new start was needed, per the NASA history website.

On April 2, Eisenhower sent draft legislation to Congress establishing the “National Aeronautics and Space Agency.” During the drafting of the final Space Act, the name was changed to “National Aeronautics and Space Administration.” It was the belief that an “Administration” with an “Administrator” would be vested with more power than a mere “agency” with a “director,” and in fact that the new institution would need that power to coordinate with many other agencies.

After Congressional hearings during spring 1958, Congress passed the legislation and President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act into law on this day. NASA formally opened for business on Oct. 1, 1958.

The NASA history website lists the objectives for NASA that were set forth in the act:

The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;

The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles;

The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies, and living organisms through space;

The establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes;

The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere;

The making available to agencies directly concerned with national defense of discoveries that have military value or significance, and the furnishing by such agencies, to the civilian agency established to direct and control nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities, of information as to discoveries which have value or significance to that agency;

Cooperation by the United States with other nations and groups of nations in work done pursuant to this Act and in the peaceful application of the results thereof;

The most effective utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies of the United States in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, facilities and equipment.

The Space Act has been amended many times since 1958 (see online reference below for details), but these goals have been little changed. You can find a legislative history of the act online, here.

You can also see some of the wonders of the universe brought to us by NASA on their website, such as images from from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, here.

Some of the treasures brought to light by Chandra, via NASA website

July 27, 1974 – U.S. House Judiciary Committee Adopts the First of Three Articles of Impeachment Against President Richard Nixon

On June 17, 1972, five men, including a salaried security coordinator for President Nixon’s reelection committee, were arrested for breaking into and illegally wiretapping the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Washington, D.C., Watergate complex. The Nixon administration denied any involvement. But later that year, reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of “The Washington Post” discovered a high-level conspiracy surrounding the incident.

In May 1973, the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, headed by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, began televised proceedings on what was now known as “the Watergate Affair.”

The Watergate Complex from the air

In July, the existence of what were to be called the Watergate tapes – official recordings of White House conversations between Nixon and his staff – was revealed during the Senate hearings. It turned out that between February 1971 and July 1973, President Nixon secretly recorded 3,700 hours of his phone calls and meetings across the executive offices.

Archibald Cox, sworn in as special Watergate prosecutor, subpoenaed these tapes, and after three months of delay President Nixon agreed to send summaries of the recordings. When Cox said summaries were unacceptable, Nixon fired him. His successor as special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, leveled indictments against several high-ranking administration officials, including White House legal counsel John Dean, who provided damning testimony against Nixon.

John Dean testifying before Congress during the Watergate hearings

On this day in history the House Judiciary Committee, by a vote of 27-11, with 6 of the committee’s 17 Republicans joining all 21 Democrats, adopted the first of three articles of impeachment against President Nixon. (The three articles pertained to obstruction of justice, abuse of presidential powers, and hindrance of the impeachment process.) The remaining two articles were approved on July 29 and 30.

The impeachment article specified nine categories of unlawful activities that were allegedly part of the cover-up of the original crime, and concluded:

In all this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”

On July 30, under coercion from the Supreme Court, Nixon finally released the Watergate tapes. On August 5, transcripts of the recordings were released, including a segment in which the president was heard instructing Haldeman to order the FBI to halt the Watergate investigation. Three days later, on this day in history, Nixon announced his resignation, and the next day, he left the White House.

U.S. President Richard M. Nixon as he announces his resignation on television, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) (Photo: Hulton Archive)

Shortly after Nixon and his family departed, Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States in the East Room of the White House. After taking the oath of office, President Ford spoke to the nation in a television address, declaring, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” He later pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office, explaining that he wanted to end the national divisions created by the Watergate scandal.

Gerald Ford announcing his pardon of Nixon

Nixontapes.org is a website dedicated to the production and dissemination of digitized audiotapes and transcripts from recordings secretly made by President Nixon between February 1971 and July 1973. Approximately 3,000 hours of his tapes have been declassified, released, and made available to the public. This website claims to be “the only website dedicated solely to the scholarly production and dissemination of digitized Nixon tape audio and transcripts.”

(The website explains that there is currently no plan to release the final 700 hours of Nixon tapes, which have been deemed to be classified or private.)

You can search the tapes by primary participant (other than Nixon), theme, or date. Another section of the website features additional materials, such as analyses of the content of the tapes.

July 25, 1952 – Puerto Rico Constitution Day

Puerto Rico (which means “rich port” in Spanish) is a territory of the United States located in the Caribbean Sea between the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands, approximately 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, Florida.

Columbus named the island “San Juan Bautista,” in honor of Saint John the Baptist, while the capital city was named “Ciudad de Puerto Rico” (“Rich Port City”), but eventually visitors began referring to the entire island as Puerto Rico, while the name San Juan was used for the capital.

The territory’s total population is approximately 3.2 million, more than 20 U.S. states. It is not a state, however, and some Americans (including former U.S. President Donald Trump), don’t even seem to know it is an American territory.

The U.S. acquired Puerto Rico in 1898, following the Spanish–American War. Puerto Ricans have been citizens of the United States since 1917, and can move freely between the island and the mainland. As it is not a state, however, Puerto Rico does not have a vote in the U.S. Congress, which however governs the territory with full jurisdiction under the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act of 1950. Nor are Puerto Ricans able to vote for the US President or Vice President, although they can vote in those primaries. [Residents of the other four U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands) also do not have the right to vote in general elections.]

As part of the 1950 act, the U.S. Congress granted Puerto Ricans the right to organize a constitutional convention via a referendum; voters could either accept or reject a proposed U.S. law that would organize Puerto Rico as a “commonwealth” under continued U.S. sovereignty. That is, Congress would continue governing fundamental aspects of Puerto Rican society, including citizenship, currency, the postal service, foreign policy, military defense, commerce and finance, and other matters.

Flag of Puerto Rico

The Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved by the constitutional convention on February 6, 1952, and by 82% of voters in a March referendum. It was modified and ratified by the U.S. Congress, approved by President Truman on July 3 of that year, and proclaimed by Governor Muñoz Marín on July 25 1952.

July 25, which had been an official holiday in Puerto Rico commemorating the invasion of United States troops in Puerto Rico on July 25, 1898, is now known as Constitution Day. Parties, parades, speeches mark the occasion.

July 22, 1937 – U.S. Senate Rejects FDR’s Court-Packing Plan

On February 5, 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt unveiled the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, which proposed adding one new judge to the federal judicial system for every active judge over the age of seventy. The result would create fifty new judgeships, including up to six new Supreme Court justices.

Roosevelt had been frustrated with the US Supreme Court’s treatment of some of his economic reforms. During his first term, the Supreme Court had struck down several New Deal measures intended to bolster economic recovery during the Great Depression. The President’s plan would allow him to appoint new judges friendly to his administration, although FDR couched it in terms suggesting that he was trying to streamline the Court system and ease its caseload.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The plan caused an uproar from legislators, bar associations, and the public. The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the bill, and subsequently failed to report it favorably out of committee.

On February 8, 1937, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider President Roosevelt's request to increase membership on the Supreme Court.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

On February 8, 1937, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to consider President Roosevelt’s request to increase membership on the Supreme Court.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

The full Senate began debating the measure in July, and on this day in history – July 22, 1937 – the U.S. Senate rejected the proposed plan by a vote of 70-20. 

Nevertheless, FDR managed to get what he wanted eventually by serving twelve years in office, which enabled him to appoint eight justices to the Court.

You can listen to FDR’s “fireside chat” on March 9, 1937 in which he discusses the court packing proposal, here.

July 19 – National Ice Cream Day & History of Founding Fathers Fondness for Ice Cream

In the United States, National Ice Cream Month is celebrated each year in July and National Ice Cream Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in July.

The practice originated with a remarkable 1984 Joint Resolution of Congress, Number 298. (You may be under the impression that Congress doesn’t do cooperation, but when the subject matter is important enough, members step up to the plate, so to speak.) It was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on July 9, 1984 with Presidential Proclamation 5219 in which he announced:

“Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim July 1984 as National Ice Cream Month and July 15, 1984, as National Ice Cream Day, and I call upon the people of the United States to observe these events with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

Ice cream manufacturers and retailers have kept up the practice.

In fact, ice cream has a long history of presidential attention in America, with fans among the founders of the country itself.

George Washington was very fond of ice cream, and First Lady Martha Washington served it at her twice-weekly receptions in Philadelphia. Dinner guests often had apple pie followed by ice cream. (No word on whether anyone thought to combine them at that time.) Mount Vernon historians confirm as well that Martha had a copy of the popular 1751 cookbook with the self-serving title The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy; Which far exceeds any Thing of the Kind yet Published by Hannah Glasse which included a recipe for ice cream.

Martha Washington

Martha Washington

Thomas Jefferson was also an aficionado of ice cream, and served it to guests while he was President. There is even a recipe for ice cream in his hand that survives. The Monticello website reports:

“There are no less than six references to ice cream being served at the President’s house between 1801 and 1809; several times guests described it being served inside of a crust or pastry.”

However, it was Dolley Madison, the wife of James Madison, fourth President of the U.S., who tends to get the most credit for popularizing ice cream in the White House. (It should be noted, however, that Dolley had often previously served as a hostess for Thomas Jefferson.) And when Dolley’s husband was elected President, she served ice cream at his second inaugural ball in 1813, as well as for the official dessert of White House dinners. Although for these dinners the dessert was a strawberry “bombe glacee,” for herself she apparently liked adding oysters to her ice cream. You can say what you will about Jefferson, but he stuck to vanilla.

Dolley Madison

Dolley Madison

Here is his Jefferson’s recipe, again from the Monticello website:

ICE CREAM

2. bottles of good cream.

6. yolks of eggs.

1/2 lb. sugar

mix the yolks & sugar

put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla.

when near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs & sugar.

stir it well.

put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent it’s sticking to the casserole.

when near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel.

put it in the Sabottiere* (*The sabottiere is the inner cannister shown in the drawing. There was no crank to turn it; when Jefferson wrote “turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes,” he meant for someone to grab the handle and turn the cannister clockwise and then counterclockwise.)

Sabottiere

then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. put into the ice a handful of salt.

put salt on the coverlid of the Sabotiere & cover the whole with ice.

leave it still half a quarter of an hour.

then turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes

open it to loosen with a spatula the ice from the inner sides of the Sabotiere.

shut it & replace it in the ice

open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides

when well taken (prise) stir it well with the Spatula.

put it in moulds, justling it well down on the knee.

then put the mould into the same bucket of ice.

leave it there to the moment of serving it.

to withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a plate.

***

Thomas Jefferson and Ice Cream from San Francisco Chronicle Illustration by Tom Murray

MODERN VERSION OF JEFFERSON’S RECIPE (ADAPTED BY MARIE KIMBALL)

Beat the yolks of 6 eggs until thick and lemon colored.
Add, gradually, 1 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt.
Bring to a boil 1 quart of cream and pour slowly on the egg mixture.
Put in top of double boiler and when it thickens, remove and strain through a fine sieve into a bowl.
When cool add 2 teaspoonfuls of vanilla.
Freeze, as usual, with one part of salt to three parts of ice.
Place in a mould, pack in ice and salt for several hours.
For electric refrigerators, follow usual direction, but stir frequently.

Happy National Ice Cream Day!!

July 16, 1935 – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Installs First Parking Meter

During the 1920s, a new problem was created by the growing ownership of vehicles: parking. According to the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, some merchants in Oklahoma City approached Carl C. Magee, the owner of the Oklahoma News. Magee sponsored a contest at the University of Oklahoma, challenging students to design a timing device for allocating each vehicle a fixed duration for parking.

The same encyclopedia article explains that none of the submissions proved entirely usable, and in 1933 engineering professor H. G. Thuesen, in concert with Gerald A. Hale, Thuesen’s former student, developed the “Black Maria,” a spring-wound timing device that followed Magee’s concept and met his design criteria.

In 1935 Magee incorporated the Dual Parking Meter Company, with himself as president. Refinements were added by the chosen manufacturer, the MacNick Company of Tulsa. Dianna Everett of the Oklahoma State Historical Society writes that trademarked as the “Dual” and later as the “Park-O-Meter,” Magee’s brainchild was adopted by the Oklahoma City council. In July 1935 175 units were installed in a fourteen-block area of central downtown. The first meter was installed on the southeast corner of First Street and Robinson Avenue on July 16, 1935.

World’s first installed parking meter, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1935

The meter was powered by a clock-type mainspring that required periodic winding, and cost a nickel for each hour. Futhermore, a twenty-dollar fine resulted if the car remained after time expired.

The idea spread to other major cities. By the early 1940s, over 140,000 parking meters were operating across the country, generating huge revenue for cities.

History.com reports that by the early 1940s, there were more than 140,000 parking meters operating in the United States. Today, Park-O-Meter No. 1 is on display in the Statehood Gallery of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Citylab notes that the meter maid first appeared in American cities in the 1950s to crack down on illegal parkers.

In the 1980s, Citylab adds, the parking meter began to make some technological advances. At first, the shift was from mechanical machines to battery-operated systems. The last mechanical meter was replaced in 2006. Now, computerized multi-space meters incorporate on-screen instructions and credit card acceptors. More recently, Washington, D.C., installed solar-panel machines. Some systems even let you pay by cell phone.

A solar-powered multi-space meter in Ann Arbor, Michigan, via Wikiwand

Today, “Automobile Evolution” estimates there are between four and five million parking meters in the United States.

July 13, 1943 – 10th Mountain Division Created at Camp Hale, Colorado & Review of “The Winter Army: The World War II Odyssey of the 10th Mountain Division, America’s Elite Alpine Warriors” by Maurice Isserman

History Professor Maurice Isserman provides a fascinating chronicle of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, formed at the outset of World War II to serve as an alpine fighting force. Drawing largely from the soldiers’ letters, diaries, and memoirs now housed in the 10th Mountain Division Archive at the Denver Public Library, Isserman brings the 10th to life from the inside.

Initial recruits were drawn from the ranks of championship skiers and mountain climbers, and they trained in the mountains of the American West. Isserman offers a treasure trove of engrossing information about how the army learned to equip and feed men for mountain warfare.

Although the skills of the 10th weren’t always used in actual combat, the men were able to draw upon their alpine training in the peaks of the North Apennines in Italy, where they moved “always forward” (their informal motto) to help drive the Germans from the Italian war theater. Isserman reports that “in terms of the percentage killed per day in combat, the 10th suffered the highest casualty rate of any US division in the campaign,” impressing both their American superiors and their German opponents with their skill and ferocity.

10th Mountain Division training at Mt. Rainier, WA

History buffs will delight in the way the 10th took Riva Ridge in the Apennines, using the same logic and techniques as the daring and unexpected ascent of the cliffs over the city of Quebec in 1759 by the British during the French and Indian War. There is pretty much never a dull moment in this account.

When the war was over, the surviving veterans of the 10th had no less interesting lives. Some of them went on to play leading roles in the outdoor winter sports industry. Isserman explains that “literally thousands of 10th veterans were employed one way or another, in the postwar ski industry,” whether as coaches, instructors, ski resort operators [both Aspen and Vail were developed as ski resorts by veterans], or ski equipment designers and promoters.

10th Mountain Division training in California

One veteran, told he would never walk again from his injuries in Italy, came to Aspen, resumed skiing, and in 1948 finished third in the giant slalom event at the US national ski competition. He and other veterans developed Vail, with ski runs named after men and events from the wartime experience of the 10th Division. “Riva Ridge” is one of the more challenging black diamond runs at the Vail Ski Resort today.

Evaluation: This unique and inspiring fighting force deserves to be better known. In addition to sharing their history, Isserman also includes a number of valuable insights from a wider perspective, such as about the role of momentum in war that can drive campaigns regardless of rational calculation; the importance of camaraderie in compensating for deficiencies in wartime; what “really” goes on under fire versus media accounts for the home audience; the rude awakening about the costs of war for the young men focused on adventure; and the sometimes selfish motives of the generals who determine their fate. The book excels as sports history as well. Photos and maps are included. I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019

April 6, 945: A bugler plays taps at memorial service for the dead of the 10th Mountain Division at the American Cemetery in Castelfiorentino, Italy (Denver Public Library collection)

July 11, 1964 – Murder of Lemuel Penn, African American U.S. Army Veteran, in Georgia for Driving While Black

Lemeul Penn, born September 19, 1915, was the Assistant Superintendent of Washington, D.C. public schools, a decorated veteran of World War II, a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Reserve, and the father of three young children. He was murdered at age 48 on this day in history by members of the Ku Klux Klan, nine days after passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Lemuel Penn

Penn was driving home, together with two other black Reserve officers, to Washington, D.C. from Fort Benning, Georgia where they had been training. They were spotted by three white members of a violent KKK group called the Black Shirts in Athens, Georgia, who noticed the D.C. plates on the car. One of the killers apparently said: “That must be one of President Johnson’s boys” and decided to follow the car. He added: “I’m going to kill me a nigger.”

Just before the highway crossed the Broad River, the Klansmen’s car pulled alongside the car of the three black men. Two of the group raised their shotguns and fired.

Penn was killed. The three white men were identified as the ones who chased the trio of Army reservists. The two shooters were tried in state superior court but found not guilty by an all-white jury.

The federal government then successfully prosecuted the men for violations under the new Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed just nine days before Penn’s murder. The case was instrumental in the creation of a Justice Department task force whose work culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court in United States v. Guest (383 U.S. 745, 1966)

The appellees, six private individuals, had been indicted under 18 U.S.C. § 241 “for conspiring to deprive Negro citizens in the vicinity of Athens, Georgia, of the free exercise and enjoyment of rights secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States, viz., the right to use state facilities without discrimination on the basis of race, the right freely to engage in interstate travel, and the right to equal enjoyment of privately owned places of public accommodation, now guaranteed by Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that it did not involve rights which are attributes of national citizenship, to which it deemed § 241 solely applicable, and dismissed the indictment. The prosecution appealed, arguing that the indictment alleged, in part, a denial of rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Justice Potter Stewart

The Supreme Court held, in an 8-1 opinion authored by Justice Potter Stewart, that protection of the 14th Amendment extended to citizens who suffer rights deprivations at the hands of private conspiracies, where there is minimal state participation in the conspiracy. The Court also held that there is Constitutional right to travel from state to state. If the predominate purpose of the conspiracy is to prevent the exercise of the right of travel, or to oppress a person of that right, as was the case here, then whether or not motivated by racial discrimination, the conspiracy becomes a proper object of federal law under which the indictment was brought. Therefore, the federal indictment was based on an offense under the laws of the United States.

July 9, 1850 – Millard Fillmore Becomes 13th President of the United States

Zachary Taylor died after only sixteen months in office. It is believed he died of cholera. His vice president, Millard Fillmore, was elevated to the presidency on July 9, 1850. He was the last president to be a member of the Whig Party while in the White House.

Fillmore was born on January 7, 1800 and was one of the few presidents who could authentically lay claim to birth in a log cabin, as historian Jean Harvey Baker writes in To The Best of My Ability, a book on American presidents edited by James M. McPherson.

Fillmore, born into poverty in the Finger Lakes area of New York state, became a self-taught, successful lawyer in Buffalo. He was attracted to politics and was elected to the New York Assembly in 1828, and to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1832. He became a Whig as the party formed in the mid-1830s; he was a rival for state party leadership with editor Thurlow Weed and Weed’s protégé, William H. Seward. Throughout his career, Fillmore declared slavery an evil, but one beyond the powers of the federal government.

In 1848 the Whig national convention chose him as running mate for Zachary Taylor. Taylor generally ignored Fillmore, even when it came to dispensing patronage in New York. As Vice President, however, Fillmore presided over the Senate during the months of debates over the Compromise of 1850. A few days before President Taylor’s death, he intimated that if there should be a tie vote on Henry Clay’s bill, he would vote in favor of it. As the White House history site observes:

Thus the sudden accession of Fillmore to the Presidency in July 1850 brought an abrupt political shift in the administration. Taylor’s Cabinet resigned and President Fillmore at once appointed Daniel Webster to be Secretary of State, thus proclaiming his alliance with the moderate Whigs who favored the Compromise.”

Professor Baker contends that the Compromise defined Fillmore’s presidency.

Millard Fillmore – Photo by Mathew Brady

This cluster of five bills supposedly balanced northern and southern interests. It provided for a new, even more draconian Fugitive Slave Law, the entry of California into the Union as a free state, an end to the slave trade in the District of Columbia, the ability of the territories of Utah and New Mexico to decide for themselves the issue of slavery, and the abandonment by Texas of claims to a great deal of territory in New Mexico in exchange for ten million dollars.

Each measure obtained a majority, and by September 20, President Fillmore had signed them into law. But the Compromise fractured the Whigs along pro- and anti-slavery lines. Some of the northern Whigs refused to forgive Fillmore for having signed the Fugitive Slave Act, which helped to deprive him of the Presidential nomination in 1852.

In foreign policy, Fillmore supported U.S. Navy expeditions to open trade in Japan. Fillmore and his Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, dispatched Commodore Matthew C. Perry on an expedition to open Japan to relations with the outside world. Perry and his ships reached Japan in July 1853, four months after the end of Fillmore’s term. Democrat Franklin Pierce succeeded Fillmore as President.

To make matters worse, Fillmore’s wife Abigail caught a cold at President Pierce’s inauguration, developed pneumonia, and died on March 30, 1853. He was bereaved again on July 26, 1854 when his only daughter Mary died of cholera.

In 1855, Fillmore traveled to Europe, not returning for over a year, until the end of June, 1856. During that time he had a private audience with Queen Victoria, who reportedly said he was the handsomest man she had ever seen.

Back in the U.S., the Whig Party had disintegrated. Whigs from the North largely gravitated to the new Republican Party, while Southern Whigs favored the nativist, anti-immigration Know Nothing Party. Although a Northerner, Fillmore became affiliated with the Know Nothing Party. He even ran for president again in 1856 on the Know Nothing ticket, finishing third behind Buchanan and Fremont.

Fillmore had been the first president to return to private life without independent wealth or possession of a landed estate. But his financial troubles were alleviated in 1858 when he married a well-to-do widow. They retired together in Buffalo, New York.

Fillmore suffered a stroke in February 1874, and died after a second one on March 8.

July 7, 1797 – U.S. Congress Voted its First Bill of Impeachment

Senator William Blount was the target of an investigation for alleged collaboration with England to help that nation take over Spanish-controlled Florida.

Blount, born in 1749, was a signer of the United States Constitution. He also played a role in helping Tennessee gain admission to the Union. He was then selected as one of Tennessee’s first U.S. senators in 1796.

Senator William Blount

According to a Senate history website, a year later President John Adams notified Congress that his administration had uncovered a conspiracy involving several American citizens who had offered to assist Great Britain in an improbable scheme to take possession of the Spanish-controlled territories of Louisiana and the Floridas. Blount was among the named conspirators.

Blount, an aggressive land speculator, had apparently devised the plot to prevent Spain from ceding its territories to France, a transaction that would have depressed the value of his extensive southwestern land holdings.

On July 7, 1797, the House of Representatives, for the first time in history, voted a bill of impeachment. It was the first time impeachment proceedings had ever been initiated against any government official, and the only time they were initiated against a member of Congress.

The following day, the Senate expelled Blount — its first use of that constitutional power — and adjourned until November. Prior to adjourning, the Senate ordered Blount to answer impeachment charges before a select committee that would meet during the recess. Blount failed to appear. He had departed for Tennessee with no intention of returning.

On February 5, 1798, as the Senate prepared for his trial and still uncertain as to whether or not a senator, or former senator, was even subject to impeachment, it issued an arrest order. The Sergeant at Arms ultimately failed in his first mission, as Blount refused to be taken from Tennessee. A year later, the Senate dismissed the charges for lack of jurisdiction — and possibly, the Senate website notes wryly, for lack of Blount.