July 28, 1943 – President Franklin Roosevelt Announces the End of Coffee Rationing

Coffee had been rationed during World War II because most of the coffee in the U.S. came from Latin America. But all available ships were being diverted to the war effort and moreover, and German U-boats were patrolling the shipping lanes and sinking merchant ships. 

In April 1942, the government limited coffee roasters to 75% of the previous year’s supply. In September the quota was cut to 65%. In February, 1943, the Office of Price Administration further reduced the coffee ration, allowing each person one pound every six weeks instead of five.


The coffee rationing was very unpopular, adversely affecting home front morale. Therefore on this day in historyJuly 28, 1943, President Roosevelt announced that it was ending — the first of the rationed items to come off the rationing list.

July 26, 1908 – The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is Established

On this day in history, Charles J. Bonaparte, Attorney General in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, signed a memo describing a “regular force of special agents” available to investigate certain cases of the Department of Justice. This date is “celebrated” [in the words of the FBI website] as the official birth of the Federal Bureau of Investigation — known throughout the world today as the FBI. (The agency was officially established in 1908 as the Bureau of Investigation (BOI). Its name was changed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935.)

Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte

Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte

After Bonaparte was appointed to his office, he discovered that he had no means to combat the rising tide of crime and corruption. Not only were violent crimes on the rise, but political and economic corruption was also a growing problem. Bonaparte had to borrow agents from the Secret Service to help him with his cases, and not only were they expensive, but these agents reported not to the Attorney General, but to the Chief of the Secret Service, giving Bonaparte little control over his own investigations. Even more frustrating, when Bonaparte made the problem known to Congress, they banned the loan of Secret Service operatives to any federal department in May 1908.

With Roosevelt’s blessing, Bonaparte created his own force of special investigators. In his memo on this date, he ordered Department of Justice attorneys to refer most investigative matters for the Department of Justice to his Chief Examiner, Stanley W. Finch, for handling by one of his new 34 agents.


July 24, 1972 – Story Breaks About Syphilis Experiments on Poor Blacks

On this day in history, The Washington, D.C. newspaper Washington Star revealed that for forty years the United States Public Health Service (PHS) had been conducting a study on low income African-American males from rural Alabama to measure the effects of untreated syphilis.

The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in Negro Male” began between 1931 and 1934 and initially involved 600 black men – 399 with syphilis, and 201 who did not have the disease. The project, which was conducted in Macon County, Alabama around the county seat of Tuskegee, did not have patients’ informed consent. Researchers told the men they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance. Although originally projected to last 6 months, the study actually went on for 40 years.

A doctor draws blood from one of the Tuskegee test subjects.

A doctor draws blood from one of the Tuskegee test subjects.

Study participants with syphilis were never given the proper treatment needed to cure their illness, even when penicillin became recognized in 1947 as the drug of choice for syphilis. The complications of untreated syphilis were well-known to medical science the year the study began. Moreover, PHS nurses told local public health workers that participants in the study were not to be treated; patients were similarly warned they would lose their “benefits” if they took treatments elsewhere.

Upon the breaking of this news story, the public outcry from the story led the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs to appoint an Ad Hoc Advisory Panel to review the study. The advisory panel concluded that the Tuskegee Study was “ethically unjustified”–the knowledge gained was sparse when compared with the risks the study posed for its subjects. In October 1972, the panel advised stopping the study at once. A month later, the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs announced the end of the Tuskegee Study.

In the summer of 1973, a class-action lawsuit was filed by the NAACP on behalf of the study participants and their families and a $10 million out-of-court settlement was reached in 1974. As part of the settlement, the U.S. government promised to give lifetime medical benefits and burial services to all living participants. In 1975, wives, widows and offspring were added to the program, and in 1995, the program was expanded to include health as well as medical benefits. The U.S. Government did not issue a formal apology until 1997. You can read the remarks by President Clinton here.


July 22, 1862 – Dix-Hill Cartel Agreement Between the Union and the Confederacy

On this day in history, an agreement was concluded between Union Major General John A. Dix and Confederate Major General D.H. Hill regarding the handling of exchanges of prisoners of war.

Union Major General John A. Dix

Union Major General John A. Dix

At the outbreak of the Civil War, the Federal government had a dilemma with respect to the prisoners. The Lincoln Administration wanted to avoid any action that might appear as an official recognition of the Confederate government in Richmond, including the formal transfer of military captives, although Union and Confederate forces did occasionally exchange prisoners on an ad hoc basis.

But there was a great deal of public pressure for the exchanges, especially after great numbers of Union soldiers were captured by the South. On December 11, 1861, the US Congress passed a joint resolution calling on President Lincoln to “inaugurate systematic measures for the exchange of prisoners in the present rebellion.”

Negotiators from the North and South had several meetings on the subject, using an earlier cartel arrangement between the United States and Great Britain in the War of 1812 as a template for discussion. But there were many issues of contention between the two sides, including where the trades would take place, how expenses would be covered for them, and which military ranks would be considered “equivalent” for purposes of exchange.

Confederate Major General D.H. Hill

Confederate Major General D.H. Hill

In addition, there was the question of exchanging non-combatants, such as citizens accused of disloyalty, and civilian employees of the military, such as teamsters and sutlers.

After the Dix-Hill Agreement, the exchanges began well enough in August of 1862, but the process broke down just months later. The Confederacy was outraged by the Union execution of a Southern citizen, and the North objected to the fact that the Confederates refused to parole and exchange any African-American soldiers taken captive who might have escaped from slavery. Confederate authorities instead treated these prisoners as runaways suitable only for return to their former owners.

By early June 1863, the exchanges had effectively stopped.

Negotiations continued however, and in January 1865 with the end of the war in sight, General Grant permitted the resumption of exchanges when the Confederate authorities agreed to include all prisoners.

You can read the text of the Dix-Hill Cartel agreement here. You can also read the text of the 1812 British-American Diplomacy Cartel for the Exchange of Prisoners of War Between Great Britain and the United States of America here.

Book Review of “Rough Crossings” by Simon Schama

This is the little-known and astonishing story by a distinguished historian about the many blacks, some free but mostly slaves, who made their way to the British lines during the American Revolution in exchange for the promise of freedom. Since many American rebel leaders were slave owners, the British knew it would be punitive to them to offer freedom to their slaves. Between eighty thousand and one hundred thousand slaves took up the offer.

Schama’s detailed documentation about this mass flight, called the Revolutionary War’s “dirty little secret,” puts lie to the myth of the happy slaves who played no role in our nation’s founding. On the contrary, many southern whites actually joined the Revolution to protect the institution of slavery, rather than to protest the price of tea. This extremely important observation is seldom discussed in popular accounts of the Revolution.


There were also blacks serving the Patriot cause, but for the most part white Americans feared giving arms to blacks and resisted until they were desperate for bodies. Whites threatened their slaves with death sentences for themselves and/or family members who went over to the British, and strung up captured mutilated bodies as deterrents. Yet still they fled. But many more wanted to escape to the British than those who tried.

Of those who survived all of the obstacles — the harrowing escape, the battlefields, disease, and frequent betrayals of British protection, at the war’s end there were as many as 20,000 blacks living in British loyalist enclaves along the northeast coast. The British had logistical problems evacuating all the white and black loyalists from America, but for the former slaves, abandonment (and subsequent recapture) could be fatal. Thousands of blacks did, however, manage to get on ships bound for either Nova Scotia or to Britain itself. Later, the British established an experimental free colony in Sierra Leone by recruiting volunteers from these two areas. Much of the book tells the story of these settlements. Especially in Sierra Leone, the industry, perseverance, dignity and faith of the settlers in the face of continual hardship is a story that should be vigorously juxtaposed to the many American-borne myths denigrating black achievement.

Although there were many sordid moments both in Britain and in the free black colonies by whites trying to return the blacks to conditions of servitude, there were heroes as well. In particular, the stories of Granville Sharp, and John and Thomas Clarkson provide notable exceptions to the rule of white racism and greed.

Evaluation: This untold story of the Revolutionary War should be required reading for American students. Schama’s 2006 award from the National Book Critics Circle was richly deserved.

Rating: 4/5

Published by BBC Books, 2005

July 18, 1947 – President Truman Signs the Presidential Succession Act

On this day in history, President Harry Truman signed into law an act clarifying the order of succession in the event of the death of a sitting president.

Article II of the Constitution, as originally adopted, states:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.”

The Second Congress (1791-1793) exercised its constitutional authority to provide for presidential vacancy or inability in the Succession Act of 1792 (1 Stat. 240). After examining several options, Congress named the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, in that order, to succeed if the presidency and vice presidency were both vacant. During debate on the bill, and in all debates on the issue thereafter, there was considerable discussion of the question of whether the President Pro Tempore and the Speaker could be considered “officers” in the sense intended by the Constitution. Nevertheless, the bill was enacted.

Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., Speaker of the House in 1792

Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., Speaker of the House in 1792

President James A. Garfield’s death led to a major change in succession law. Shot by an assassin on July 2, 1881, the President survived 79 days before succumbing on September 19. Vice President Chester A. Arthur took office, but the positions of Speaker and President Pro Tempore were vacant throughout the President’s illness. Congress subsequently passed the Succession Act of 1886 (24 Stat. 1) in order to insure the line of succession and guarantee that potential successors would be of the same party as the deceased incumbent. This legislation transferred succession after the Vice President from the President Pro Tempore and the Speaker to cabinet officers in the chronological order in which their departments were created, provided certain conditions were met. Further, it eliminated the requirement for a special election, thus ensuring that any future successor would serve the full balance of the presidential term. This act governed succession until 1947.

President Chester A. Arthur

President Chester A. Arthur

When the 1945 death of Franklin Roosevelt propelled Vice President Truman into the presidency, Truman urged placing the Speaker, as an elected representative of his district, as well as the chosen leader of the “elected representatives of the people,” next in line to the vice president.  The new law restored the Congressional officers to places directly after the Vice President, but switched their order from the 1792 Act, placing the Speaker of the House first and the President pro tempore second. The Presidential Cabinet Secretaries and Officers then followed, again in the order in which their respective departments were created.

President Harry Truman

President Harry Truman

The 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy helped set events in motion that culminated in the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, a key element in current succession procedures. While Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded without incident after Kennedy’s death, it was noted that Johnson’s potential immediate successor, House Speaker John W. McCormack, was 71 years old, and Senate President Pro Tempore Carl T. Hayden was 86 and visibly frail. In addition, many worried that a vice presidential vacancy for any length of time constituted a dangerous gap in the nation’s leadership during the Cold War, an era of international tensions and the threat of nuclear war. It was argued that there should be a qualified Vice President ready to succeed to the presidency at all times. The 25th Amendment, providing for vice presidential vacancies and presidential disability, was proposed by the 89th Congress in 1965 and approved by the requisite number of states in 1967.

In particular, Section 2 provides:

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”

Section 2 of the 25th Amendment has been invoked twice since its ratification: in 1973, when Representative Gerald R. Ford was nominated and approved to succeed Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, who had resigned, and again in 1974, when the former Governor of New York, Nelson A. Rockefeller, was nominated and approved to succeed Ford, who had become President when President Richard M. Nixon resigned.

President Gerald R. Ford

President Gerald R. Ford

Following the events of September 11, 2001 and the prospect of a “decapitation” of a large part of the U.S. government by an act of mass terrorism, there have been proposals to reexamine presidential succession. In March 9, 2006, the Presidential Succession Act was amended to add the Secretary of Homeland Security after the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

A number of issues characterize current debates about further revision of succession, including the old argument about whether federal legislators are “Officers” under the Constitution’s Succession Clause; the need for efficient conduct of the presidency (i.e., would, for example, the President Pro Tempore have the necessary skills to serve as president?); and the important matter of divided government: suppose the successor is from a different party?

These measures run in parallel to the Government’s use of secret “Continuity of Operations” plans, a practice instituted by modern presidential administrations in response to the perceived threat of a nuclear war. Provisions of the plans (made by presidents using secret Emergency Action Orders, which for the most part are classified because of national security concerns) have designated certain government officials to assume Cabinet and other executive branch positions and carry out the responsibilities of the position if the primary office holders are killed. Eisenhower’s plan, for example, named industry titans, such as Theodore Koop of the CBS Television Network Broadcast House to head the “Office of Censorship”; Reagan’s National Security Council designated Oliver North as the “action officer” for the secret program. (Oliver North was later indicted on 16 felony counts and convicted on three of them pursuant to the Iran-contra scandal.)

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

You can read more about continuity of government plans here and here.

July 16, 1794 -Climax of Whiskey Tax Rebellion

The Whiskey Rebellion began in 1791, during the presidency of George Washington. It was provoked by the imposition of an excise tax on distilled spirits. The new excise was a part of treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton’s program to fund war debt incurred during the Revolutionary War.

The tax infuriated farmers in the western frontier regions who were long accustomed to distilling their surplus grain and corn into whiskey. The protestors considered the tax a confiscation of their rightfully earned profits.

The westerners had other grievances as well with the national government, including the perception that the government was not adequately protecting their frontier from Native Americans, and that they were prohibited (by Spain) from using the Mississippi River for commercial navigation. Until these issues were addressed, westerners felt the government was ignoring their security and economic welfare, so why should they pay taxes that, in their perceptions, were only used for the betterment of the easterners?

Throughout counties in Western Pennsylvania, protesters met would-be tax collectors with pitchforks, tar and feathers, and even gunfire.

In May of 1791, federal district attorney William Rawle issued subpoenas for more than 60 distillers in Pennsylvania who had not paid the excise tax. Distillers who received these writs were obligated to travel to Philadelphia to appear in federal court. For farmers on the western frontier, such a journey was expensive and time-consuming. This was the last straw.

Resistance came to a climax on this day in history, when a mob of more than 500 armed men near Pittsburgh burned the homes of the whiskey-tax collector and the U.S. Marshall, forcing them to take their families and flee the area. The remaining tax collectors in the area followed or resigned.

President Washington ordered Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton to raise an army of 13,000 to subdue the rebels. The rebels disbanded before the arrival of the army, however, and there was no confrontation. About 20 men were arrested, but all were later acquitted or pardoned.

The whiskey excise remained difficult to collect, however, and was repealed after Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party, which opposed policies promulgated by Hamilton’s Federalist Party, came to power in 1801.

Depiction of George Washington reviewing the troops near Fort Cumberland, Maryland, before their march to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion.

Depiction of George Washington reviewing the troops near Fort Cumberland, Maryland, before their march to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion.


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