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Ballinger-Pinchot scandal erupts

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ballinger-pinchot-scandal-erupts

The Ballinger-Pinchot scandal erupts when Colliers magazine accuses Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger of shady dealings in Alaskan coal lands. It is, in essence, a conflict rooted in contrasting ideas about how to best use and conserve western natural resources.

Ballinger was an appointee of President William Taft, the man who had succeeded the committed conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had developed most of his environmentally friendly policies with the assistance of his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot. By 1909, Roosevelt, Pinchot, and other conservationists feared that Taft, though a fellow Republican, and Ballinger were systematically undermining the accomplishments of the previous administration by reopening to exploitation public lands that had been closed.

The Colliers article charged that Ballinger improperly used his office to help the Guggenheims and other powerful interests illegally gain access to Alaskan coal fields, confirming the worst fears of Pinchot and Roosevelt. Despite the fact that he had stayed on as chief forester in the Taft administration, Pinchot began to criticize openly both Ballinger and Taft, claiming they were violating the fundamental principles of both conservation and democracy. Livid with anger, Taft immediately fired Pinchot, inspiring yet another round of scandalous headlines.

The controversy over the Ballinger-Pinchot affair soon became a major factor in splitting the Republican Party. After returning from an African safari, Roosevelt concluded that Taft had so badly betrayed the ethics of conservation that he had to be ousted. Roosevelt mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Taft on the independent Bull Moose ticket in 1912. In truth, subsequent scholarship has shown that Ballinger had not technically misused the power of his office and the charges of corruption were unjustified. However, the Ballinger-Pinchot scandal reflected the ongoing tension between those who emphasized the immediate use of natural resources and those who wanted them conserved for the future, a discussion that remains active today.

READ MORE: Why the Purchase of Alaska Was Far From “Folly”

ISIL stages series of terrorist attacks in Paris, culminating in massacre at Bataclan theater

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/paris-terrorist-attacks-bataclan

On November 13, 2015, a cell of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant commits a string of terrorist attacks across Paris, killing 131 and injuring over 400. It was the deadliest day in France since World War II, as well as the deadliest operation ISIL has carried out in Europe to date.

2015 had already seen a number of major terrorist attacks, in France and elsewhere. In January, a group known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula carried out five separate attacks across the city, the deadliest of which occurred at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The following months, terrorists attacked a Jewish community center in Nice. In August, passengers prevented a self-identified “jihadist” from carrying out a shooting a train from Amsterdam to Paris, and on October 31 ISIL claimed responsibility for the bombing of Metrojet Flight 9268 en route to St. Petersburg, which killed 224.

The attacks on this day began with a series of suicide bombings outside the Stade de France, where the French national soccer team was playing Germany with President François Hollande in attendance. One person was killed, but further bloodshed was averted because the bombers failed to enter the stadium. The stadium attack was immediately followed by a string of shootings and another bombing at restaurants closer to the city center, culminating in a massacre and hostage-taking at the Bataclan theater in the middle of a sold-out rock concert. After more than two hours, the French police stormed the theater, resulting in the deaths of the three assailants.

As France mourned, its government declared a state of emergency and stepped up its bombing campaign against ISIL. On November 18, one of a series of police raids across the region resulted in the death of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged mastermind of the attack. Abaaoud held dual Belgian and Moroccan citizenship, while seven of the nine Paris attackers were either Belgian or French. The perpetrators had ties to ISIL’s Brussels cell, which coordinated a number of attacks in Europe including a string of suicide bombings in the Belgian capital the following March. Though a number of ISIL-inspired stabbings and attacks, usually by one or two isolated perpetrators, occurred across France throughout 2016 and 2017, the Paris attacks represent the high-water mark for ISIL’s activities in Europe.

Abigail Adams leads rhetorical charge against Britain

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/abigail-adams-leads-rhetorical-charge-against-britain

Upon hearing of England’s rejection of the so-called Olive Branch Petition on November 12, 1775, Abigail Adams writes to her husband, “Let us separate, they are unworthy to be our Brethren. Let us renounce them and instead of supplications as formerly for their prosperity and happiness, Let us beseech the almighty to blast their councils and bring to Nought all their devices.”

The previous July, Congress had adopted the Olive Branch Petition, written by John Dickinson, which appealed directly to King George III and expressed hope for reconciliation between the colonies and Great Britain. Dickinson, who hoped desperately to avoid a final break with Britain, phrased colonial opposition to British policy as follows:

“Your Majesty’s Ministers, persevering in their measures, and proceeding to open hostilities for enforcing them, have compelled us to arm in our own defence, and have engaged us in a controversy so peculiarly abhorrent to the affections of your still faithful Colonists, that when we consider whom we must oppose in this contest, and if it continues, what may be the consequences, our own particular misfortunes are accounted by us only as parts of our distress.”

By phrasing their discontent this way, Congress attempted to notify the king that American colonists were unhappy with ministerial policy, not his own. They concluded their plea with a final statement of fidelity to the crown. “That your Majesty may enjoy long and prosperous reign, and that your descendants may govern your Dominions with honour to themselves and happiness to their subjects, is our sincere prayer.”

By July 1776, though, the Declaration of Independence proclaimed something very different: “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”

Congress’ language is critical to understanding the seismic shift that had occurred in American thought in just 12 months. The militia that had fired upon British Redcoats at Lexington and Concord in April 1775 had been angry with Parliament, not the king, who they still trusted to desire only good for all of his subjects around the globe. This belief changed after King George refused to so much as receive the Olive Branch Petition. The fundamental grounds upon which Americans were taking up arms had changed.

Abigail Adams’ response was a particularly articulate expression of many colonists’ thoughts: Patriots had hoped that Parliament had curtailed colonial rights without the king’s full knowledge, and that the petition would cause him to come to his subjects’ defense. When George III refused to read the petition, Patriots like Adams realized that Parliament was acting with royal knowledge and support. Americans’ patriotic rage was intensified with the January 1776 publication by English-born radical Thomas Paine of Common Sense, an influential pamphlet that attacked the monarchy, which Paine claimed had allowed “crowned ruffians” to “impoverish the nation and set it together by the ears.”

The destruction of Atlanta begins

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-destruction-of-atlanta-begins

On November 12, 1864, Union General William T. Sherman orders the business district of Atlanta, Georgia, destroyed before he embarks on his famous March to the Sea.

When Sherman captured Atlanta in early September 1864, he knew that he could not remain there for long. His tenuous supply line ran from Nashville, Tennessee, through Chattanooga, Tennessee, then one hundred miles through mountainous northern Georgia. The army he had just defeated, the Army of Tennessee, was still in the area and its leader, John Bell Hood, swung around Atlanta to try to damage Sherman’s lifeline. Of even greater concern was the Confederate cavalry of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a brilliant commander who could strike quickly against the railroads and river transports on which Sherman relied.

During the fall, Sherman conceived of a plan to split his enormous army. He sent part of it, commanded by General George Thomas, back toward Nashville to deal with Hood while he prepared to take the rest of the troops across Georgia. Through October, Sherman built up a massive cache of supplies in Atlanta. He then ordered a systematic destruction of the city to prevent the Confederates from recovering anything once the Yankees had abandoned it. By one estimate, nearly 40 percent of the city was ruined. Sherman would apply to the same policy of destruction to the rest of Georgia as he marched to Savannah. Before leaving on November 15, Sherman’s forces had burned the industrial district of Atlanta and left little but a smoking shell.

Yuri Andropov assumes power in the Soviet Union

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/yuri-andropov-assumes-power-in-the-soviet-union

Following the death of long-time Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev two days earlier, Yuri Andropov is selected as the new general secretary of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. It was the culmination of a long, but steady march up the Communist Party hierarchy for Andropov.

Born in Russia in 1914, by the 1930s Andropov was an active participant in the Communist Youth League. During World War II, he led a group of guerilla fighters who operated behind Nazi lines. His work led to various positions in Moscow, and in 1954, he was named as Soviet ambassador to Hungary. During the Hungarian crisis of 1956, Andropov proved his reliability. He lied to Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy about Soviet military intentions, and later assured Nagy that he was safe from Soviet reprisals. Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest in November 1956 and Nagy was captured and executed in 1958.Andropov’s work in Hungary brought him back to Moscow, where he continued to rise through the ranks of the Communist Party. In 1967, he was named head of the KGB, Russia’s secret police force. 

 A hard-liner, he supported the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and oversaw the crackdown on dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn. In 1982, with Brezhnev deathly ill and fading fast, Andropov left the KGB and began jockeying for power. When Brezhnev died on November 10, 1982, Andropov was poised to assume power. He was named general secretary on November 12.His rule was short-lived, but eventful. At home, he tried to reinvigorate the flagging Russian economy and attacked corruption and rising alcoholism among the Soviet people. 

In his foreign policy, Andropov faced off against the adamantly anticommunist diplomacy of President Ronald Reagan. Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were severely strained when Soviet pilots shot down a Korean airliner in September 1983. Later that year, Soviet diplomats broke off negotiations concerning reductions in Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces and the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START).

Andropov had suffered from nearly debilitating illnesses since early 1983, and died on February 9, 1984. He was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko .

High school sweethearts murder their newborn child

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/high-school-sweethearts-murder-their-newborn-child

Young lovers Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson check into a Delaware motel. During their stay, Grossberg gave birth to a 6 pound, 2 ounce baby. When the infant was later found dead in a trash container behind the motel, the strange and unsettling story drew national attention.

Grossberg and Peterson were high school sweethearts. Though Grossberg became pregnant during her senior year of high school, she managed to conceal the pregnancy from friends and family. Letters sent from Grossberg to Peterson during the fall of her freshman year of college reveal that as her delivery date approached, she was feeling resentful toward the unborn child and thinking about her options. “I am sorry I look fat and ugly,” she wrote. “I wish I could have my nice body back. All I want is for it to go away. I can’t get caught. I can’t. I can’t.”

After Grossberg gave birth, Peterson placed the infant in a garbage bag and whisked it out to a trash bin behind the motel. In an autopsy report, medical experts revealed that the baby was alive at birth and died of massive head trauma, which refuted the couple’s claim that the infant was stillborn.

Though prosecutors initially tried to pursue murder charges against Grossberg and Peterson, both eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter. Peterson was the first to cooperate with officials, and in return he received a two-year sentence. Grossberg received the same sentence plus six additional months after agreeing to cooperate. At the sentencing, Grossberg made an apparently remorseful statement. “I put aside what was best for my baby,” she said, “and that pain will be with me the rest of my life.”

Scott Peterson convicted of murder

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/scott-peterson-convicted

On November 12, 2004, Scott Peterson is convicted of murdering his wife Laci and their unborn son. A jury of six men and six women delivered the verdict 23 months after Laci Peterson, who was pregnant, disappeared on Christmas Eve from Modesto, California. The case captivated millions across America and saturated national media coverage for almost two years.

When initially questioned about his wife’s whereabouts, Peterson claimed that Laci had disappeared sometime after leaving the house to walk their dog and after he left on a fishing trip to nearby San Francisco Bay. About one month later, Amber Frey, a 28-year-old massage therapist from Fresno, California, came forward to tell police that she’d had an affair with Scott Peterson, shattering his image as a devoted husband to his pretty and pregnant wife. As police continued to search for Laci and clues that might explain her disappearance, Scott Peterson sold her sports-utility vehicle, leading to suspicions that he might be trying to get rid of evidence.

The bodies of Laci and her baby were found washed up on shore near the marina where Scott Peterson kept his boat on April 13 and 14, 2003. Within a week, Scott Peterson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, with the special circumstance of double homicide, which opened the door for prosecutors to seek the death penalty. He was arrested in San Diego carrying large amounts of cash and his brother’s passport, and with a new hair color and cut, seemingly on the verge of running from police.

Soon after pleading not guilty to the charges, Peterson retained the legal services of well-known celebrity attorney Mark Geragos. His trial began on June 1, 2004. Over the course of the next 19 weeks, prosecutors introduced 174 witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence designed to paint Scott Peterson as a cold and heartless man who continued to lie and cheat on his wife even as he appeared on television feigning despair over her disappearance. They pointed out how he referred to himself as a widower even before his wife’s body had been found. The prosecution’s case was hampered, however, by the fact that they had no eyewitness to the crime and had not found a weapon. Meanwhile, Geragos worked to convince the jury of an alternate scenario in which someone else had murdered Laci while she was walking the dog, then framed Scott after learning of his alibi from the news. Peterson did not take the stand.

Finally on this day in 2004, after seven days of deliberation that involved the replacement of two jurors, Scott Peterson was convicted of the first-degree murder of his wife and the second-degree murder of his unborn son. He was unemotional during the reading of the verdict, which was greeted with cheers and celebration by Laci’s friends in the audience and the hundreds of supporters waiting outside the courthouse.

On March 16, 2005, Scott Peterson was formally sentenced to death by lethal injection.

Plane crashes in Rockaway, New York

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/plane-crashes-in-rockaway-new-york

An American Airlines flight out of John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport in New York City crashes into a Queens neighborhood after takeoff on November 12, 2001, killing 265 people. Although some initially speculated that the crash was the result of terrorism, as it came exactly two months after the September 11 attacks, the cause was quickly proven to be a combination of pilot error and wind conditions.

Flight 587 took off at 9:14 a.m., bound for the Dominican Republic with 260 passengers and crew on board. Just ahead of the Airbus 300 jet, also using runway 31, was a Japan Air 747. Even with the standard four-mile distance between them, the 747 created some wake turbulence that hit Flight 587 just minutes after takeoff. As the plane climbed to 13,000 feet, there were two significant shudders and then a violent heave.

Unfortunately, the pilots of Flight 587 overreacted to the wake turbulence and their subsequent maneuvers put too much strain on the tail section of the plane. The tail, along with the rudder in the rear, broke off completely and fell into Rockaway Bay. Without this part of the plane, Flight 587 crashed to the ground.

As Flight 587 was in its final moments, Kevin McKeon was in his house on Queens’ Rockaway Peninsula. In an instant, his house virtually exploded; he was thrown out into his yard as the plane fell onto his house. In all, 10 homes were set ablaze, and five people on the ground, as well as all 260 people on the plane, lost their lives. The disaster hit Rockaway especially hard, as the community was still reeling from the September 11 attacks, in which 65 area residents lost their lives.

Jimmy Carter shuts down oil imports from Iran

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/carter-shuts-down-oil-imports-from-iran

On November 12, 1979, President Jimmy Carter responds to a potential threat to national security by stopping the importation of petroleum from Iran.

Earlier that month, on November 4, 66 Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran had been taken hostage by a radical Islamic group. The alarming event led Carter and his advisors to wonder if the same or other terrorist groups would try to strike at American oil resources in the region. At the time, the U.S. depended heavily on Iran for crude oil and Carter’s cultivation of a relationship with Iran’s recently deposed shah gave the radicals cause, in their view, to take the Americans hostage. Not knowing if future attacks were planned involving American oil tankers or refineries, Carter agreed with the Treasury and Energy Departments that oil imports from Iran should be discontinued immediately. This ended America’s formerly friendly association with the oil-rich nation.

The U.S. and Iran had previously enjoyed a healthy diplomatic relationship; Carter had even enlisted the Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s help in reconvening peace talks between Israel and Egypt. Carter also sought Iran’s help in supporting nuclear non-proliferation talks with the Soviet Union. Carter and the shah affirmed their desire to collaborate on alternative energy and oil conservation. He even once toasted Iran under the shah as “an island of stability” in the Middle East.

While Carter and the shah planned closer collaboration on energy issues and the Middle East peace process, an Islamic revolution was brewing in Iran. The shah, who was reviled by the revolutionaries as catering to evil Western influences, was deposed in January 1979 and replaced by a clerical regime led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. In October 1979, the exiled shah came to the United States for cancer treatment. Carter’s hospitality toward the shah enraged the group of radical Iranian students who, on November 4, stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 66 Americans hostage.

The ensuing hostage crisis, which lasted 444 days, eroded Carter’s popularity and he lost his bid for re-election to Republican Ronald Reagan. Reagan went on to serve as president from 1980 to 1988.

READ MORE: How the Iran Hostage Crisis Became a 14-Month Nightmare for President Carter and the Nation