Archive for December 16th, 2008
December 16, 1773
Sons of Liberty dump British tea
On this day in 1773, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships moored in Boston Harbor and dump 342 chests of tea into the water.
Now known as the “Boston Tea Party,” the midnight raid was a protest of the Tea Act of 1773, a bill enacted by the British parliament to save the faltering British East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a virtual monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the company to sell its tea even more cheaply than that smuggled into America by Dutch traders. Many colonists viewed the act as yet another example of Britain’s taxation tyranny.
In most American ports, the resistance group known as the Sons of Liberty scared off British tea-carrying ships by threatening their captains with tarring, feathering or worse. However, when three tea ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor and the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England, Thomas Hutchinson, the British-appointed governor of Massachusetts, refused to permit the ships to leave. Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the now-famous “tea party” with about 60 members of the Sons of Liberty. The British tea dumped into Boston Harbor on the night of December 16 was worth more than $700,000 in today’s currency.
Parliament, outraged by the blatant destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, called the “Intolerable Acts” by the colonists, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.
“Sons of Liberty dump British tea.” 2008. The History Channel website. 16 Dec 2008, 12:14 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=45.
1809 – Napoleon Bonaparte was divorced from the Empress Josephine by an act of the French Senate.
1835 – In New York, 530 buildings were destroyed by fire.
1903 – Women ushers were employed for the first time at the Majestic Theatre in New York City.
1916 – Gregory Rasputin, the monk who had wielded powerful influence over the Russian court, was murdered by a group of noblemen.
1950 – U.S. President Truman proclaimed a national state of emergency in order to fight “Communist imperialism.”
1991 – The U.N. General Assembly rescinded its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism by a vote of 111-25.
1995 – Many U.S. government functions were again closed as a temporary finance provision expired and the budget dispute between President Clinton and Republicans in Congress continued.
1996 – Britain’s agriculture minister announced the slaughter of an additional 100,000 cows thought to be at risk of contracting BSE in an effort to persuade the EU to lift its ban on Britain.
1998 – The U.S. and Britain fired hundreds of missiles on Iraq in response to Saddam Hussein’s refusal to comply with U.N. weapons inspectors.
2000 – U.S. President-elect George W. Bush selected Colin Powell to be the first African-American secretary of state. Powell was sworn in January 20, 2001.
December 16, 1944
Battle of the Bulge
On this day, the Germans launch the last major offensive of the war, Operation Mist, also known as the Ardennes Offensive and the Battle of the Bulge, an attempt to push the Allied front line west from northern France to northwestern Belgium. The Battle of the Bulge, so-called because the Germans created a “bulge” around the area of the Ardennes forest in pushing through the American defensive line, was the largest fought on the Western front.
The Germans threw 250,000 soldiers into the initial assault, 14 German infantry divisions guarded by five panzer divisions-against a mere 80,000 Americans. Their assault came in early morning at the weakest part of the Allied line, an 80-mile poorly protected stretch of hilly, woody forest (the Allies simply believed the Ardennes too difficult to traverse, and therefore an unlikely location for a German offensive). Between the vulnerability of the thin, isolated American units and the thick fog that prevented Allied air cover from discovering German movement, the Germans were able to push the Americans into retreat.
One particularly effective German trick was the use of English-speaking German commandos who infiltrated American lines and, using captured U.S. uniforms, trucks, and jeeps, impersonated U.S. military and sabotaged communications. The ploy caused widespread chaos and suspicion among the American troops as to the identity of fellow soldiers–even after the ruse was discovered. Even General Omar Bradley himself had to prove his identity three times–by answering questions about football and Betty Grable–before being allowed to pass a sentry point.
The battle raged for three weeks, resulting in a massive loss of American and civilian life. Nazi atrocities abounded, including the murder of 72 American soldiers by SS soldiers in the Ardennes town of Malmedy. Historian Stephen Ambrose estimated that by war’s end, “Of the 600,000 GIs involved, almost 20,000 were killed, another 20,000 were captured, and 40,000 were wounded.” The United States also suffered its second-largest surrender of troops of the war: More than 7,500 members of the 106th Infantry Division capitulated at one time at Schnee Eifel. The devastating ferocity of the conflict also made desertion an issue for the American troops; General Eisenhower was forced to make an example of Private Eddie Slovik, the first American executed for desertion since the Civil War.
The war would not end until better weather enabled American aircraft to bomb and strafe German positions.
“Battle of the Bulge.” 2008. The History Channel website. 16 Dec 2008, 12:21 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6645.
On This Day in Wisconsin: December 16
1922 – James Davidson Dies
On this date James Davidson died. He was born in Norway in 1854 and emigrated in 1872. He became a leading merchant in Soldiers Grove and served as village president, village treasurer, assemblyman, state treasurer, and lieutenant-governor before becoming governor of the state from 1906-1911. As governor, he introduced the law providing for bank examiners and promoted legislation giving the railroad commission jurisdiction over most public utilities. He is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison. [Source: History Just Ahead: A Guide to Wisconsin's Historical Markers, edited by Sarah Davis McBride]