Good morning, it’s June 14. Today is Flag Day, which is fitting, because on this date in 1777 the Continental Congress officially adopted the Stars and Stripes. Naturally, presidents have been associated with the remembrance, starting with George Washington, who flew the banner in the field. Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed June 14 “Flag Day” in 1916; Harry Truman signed a law in 1949 making it official.
But the Flag Day ceremony that most impacted the modern presidency – it can actually be said to have ushered in the modern presidency – occurred on June 14, 1922 in Baltimore. On that day, in a speech unveiling a memorial to Francis Scott Key at Fort McHenry, Warren Harding became the first U.S. president to have his voice broadcast over the radio.
Warren G. Harding is remembered today, on the rare occasions when he is remembered at all, as a failed president. His administration boasted few concrete accomplishments, was beset by scandal, and he died in office on a trip to San Francisco. read more »
Good morning, it’s June 13. On this date in 1971, the New York Times began publication of the Pentagon Papers – an event with even more resonance today.
What came to be known as “The Pentagon Papers” began in June 1967, when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara commissioned a secret study of the history of the Vietnam War. McNamara had been one of the war’s architects, but this project showed that he had second thoughts fairly early in the game.
In his memoirs, McNamara claimed dubiously that his motivation was to help historians, and that it was never really that big a secret. But McNamara never mentioned the project to President Johnson or Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and he conspicuously went outside normal Pentagon channels to produce it, tapping into a vein of sympathetic scholars, many of them Harvard men. read more »
Good morning, it’s June 12. Today is the 89th birthday of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd president.
Twenty-six years ago today, the man who elevated George Bush to national office gave one of the most celebrated speeches in his own presidency. The setting was the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the very symbol of Europe’s Cold War division between western democracies and Soviet-controlled “satellite” states.
When President Reagan’s arrived in Berlin on June 12, 1987, relations between Washington and Moscow were at a historic pivot point. read more »
Good morning, it’s June 11. This date in U.S. history reminds Americans of the admirable nature of inner fortitude and perseverance.
One hundred years ago, Vince Lombardi was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. The great football coach is remembered for, among other things, the aphorism “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” posted in his locker room.
But Lombardi didn’t coin the slogan, which first appeared publicly in an obscure 1953 sports movie starring John Wayne. The phase apparently came from UCLA football coach Red Sanders. It’s an impossible mantra anyway, as Lombardi acknowledged in a 1962 Esquire interview by toning it down to “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is!” read more »
Good morning, it’s June 10, the day a phenomenon – revealed, literally, by Benjamin Franklin.
When Franklin became interested in electricity in the mid-18th century, everyone from scientists at London’s Royal Society to traveling carnival barkers in the New World knew something was in the air. They just didn’t know quite what.
In those days, a typical demonstration from itinerant “electricians” would be to suspend a boy from the ceiling with silken cords and then rub his bare feet with a glass tube, thereby eliciting sparks from his face and hands. To Ben Franklin, this was mere child’s play; he figured he could do better. read more »
Good morning, it’s June 7. The Plessy v. Ferguson case began on this date in 1892 when a New Orleans resident named Homer Plessy boarded the first-class car at the Press Street train station heading for Covington, La.
Mr. Plessy never made it that far. He was escorted from the whites-only car and cited, setting in motion a four-year legal proceeding that culminated in one of the most noxious decisions in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Like the Scopes “monkey trial” that would come three decades later, Plessy v. Ferguson was not triggered by overzealous law enforcement. Plessy was a carefully planned challenge to Jim Crow. read more »
Good morning, it’s June 5, a date of momentous events in U.S. history. On June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy was fatally wounded in Los Angeles. Ronald Reagan died, also in Southern California, on this day in 2004. Exactly 60 years earlier, Dwight Eisenhower gave the order of the day (“Full victory – nothing else”) to paratroopers at Normandy.
Eisenhower and George Patton, along with Douglas MacArthur, are the generals whose names resonate with Americans today. But in 1944 all three of those officers reported to a five-star named George C. Marshall Jr. And on this date in 1947, Marshall outlined a plan to save Europe in a momentous speech at Harvard Yard.
Americans who know about George Catlett Marshall think of him as a Virginia patrician, but that impression is a function of public relations and a hazy historical memory. Although he attended Virginia Military Institute, Marshall was born in Uniontown, Pa. read more »
Good morning, it’s May 31. Today is the 83rd birthday of an actor, director, social commentator, and local California politician who is still occasionally greeted by residents of Carmel as “Mr. Mayor.” The rest of us know him as Clint Eastwood.
The Hollywood star caused a stir at last summer’s Republican National Convention when he pretended to address President Obama while talking to an empty chair on stage. But it wasn’t, shall we say, his first rodeo.
Clinton Eastwood Jr. was born in San Francisco on May 31, 1930, and kicked around Northern California with his family while his father took what work he could find during the Great Depression. read more »
Good morning, it’s May 15. On this date in 1855, an unknown but confident writer named Walt Whitman registered “Leaves of Grass” as a copyrighted work in court clerk’s office in New York. Poetry in this country would never be the same.
The first editions of “Leaves of Grass” were self-published - Walt Whitman was originally a printer – and although he helped set the type himself, the 1855 book did not include Whitman’s byline. Although this anonymous first printing sold modestly and received mostly negative reviews, that would soon change. read more »
Good morning, it’s May 14. This date in history reminds us that the Office of the President is an organic, continuing institution and all modern U.S. presidents have a great deal in common, more than they usually care to admit.
On this day in 1969, Richard Nixon spoke to the American people about a war he inherited, but was unable or unwilling to bring to a close. Less than four months into his presidency, Nixon delivered a lengthy address at 10 p.m. Eastern time from the White House theater.
“I have asked for this television time tonight to report to you on our most difficult and urgent problem - the war in Vietnam,” he began. Nixon said no issue had taken up as much time since he became president, and he acknowledged that many Americans believed he should have brought America’s fighting forces home immediately after his inauguration. read more »