This week, the U.S. Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and to appreciate the magnitude of this achievement, you need to understand the obstacles in its path.
First, legislation must pass in the House and Senate, which usually pass very different versions of the bill. A House-Senate committee must work out those differences befor
This week (June 1) in 1950, Margaret Chase Smith, the Republican senator from Maine and the first woman ever to serve as both a United States senator and member of the House of Representatives, gave a speech that, looking back, was a voice of moral clarity amidst a cacophony of madness and vilification.
Smith's Declaration of Conscience,
This week (May 14) in 1948, at the direction of President Harry Truman, the United States recognized the existence of the newly formed nation of Israel, which had declared independence earlier that day. It was, Truman later stated, among the most important decisions of his presidency.
It was certainly among the most controversial, having
Time for my annual spring cleaning column, in which I address reader issues and answer frequently asked questions.
Issue No. 1: My one reader issue this year is still the same. I appreciate the volume of reader mail I get and I pride myself on answering every one, good or bad, agree or disagree, in awe of my range of knowledge or in d
In 1963, Eugene "Bull" Connor was the public safety commissioner of Birmingham, Ala. Bull Connor was also the stereotypical red-faced, bull-necked, racist lawman who believed all blacks were genetically inferior. And Bull Connor was also, ironically, one of the best things that ever happened to the civil rights movement, which visited Birmingham
One of the longest-standing and regularly recurring of our national political debates — a debate that, if anything, is even more intense today — is what powers the president and the Congress have with regard to America's involvement in wars with other nations (or, these days, with other entities such as non-aligned terrorist organiza
Alexis de Tocqueville, who died this week (April 16) in 1859, is best known for his seminal work "Democracy in America," which is not only the best book ever written about democracy, it is arguably the best book ever written about America. Having traveled throughout America as a young man, de Tocqueville describes in his book his impressions of
The Civil War began this week (April 12) in 1861 with the shelling of the Union fort, Fort Sumter, by Confederate troops in South Carolina.
Four years later that war ended with the total defeat of the Confederacy, and in the war's wake many historians have concluded that a Union victory was inevitable given the huge advantages that the U
Joseph Lister, who was born this week (April 5) in1827, was an amazing physician but a poor salesman. In 1867, this unknown British doctor, having read an article on microorganisms by the French chemist Louis Pasteur, concluded that the same microorganisms — we call them germs today — caused infections in wounds.
This week (March 29) in 1973, the United States withdrew its last remaining combat troops from Vietnam, ending its military involvement in the Vietnam War.
It also ended what had been the United States' professed rationale for fighting in Vietnam. As President Lyndon Johnson put it at the time, America's objective was to preserve the ind
This week (March 21) in 1989 Randall Adams walked out of prison after serving 12 years of a life sentence for a murder he did not commit.
In 1977, Adams, a 28-year-old drifter, was hitchhiking in Dallas when he was picked up by David Harris, a 16-year-old driving a stolen car. According to Harris's later testimony, Adams fatally shot pol
This week (March 11) in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the last general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. His six-year reign as Soviet leader was a fascinating high-wire act in which he precariously balanced between triumph and failure, reform and reaction, and liberalization and retrenchment — all under the guise of ec
I have written before about the infamous Dred Scott decision, which the Supreme Court handed down this week (March 6) in 1857. In that case the slave Dred Scott sued for his freedom, arguing that because his travels with his owner took him into free territories where slavery was banned, legally he was a free man. The Supreme Court, as we know, r
This week (Feb. 23) in 1836 a seminal event in American history — and lore — occurred when a Mexican army under the command of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna laid siege to the Alamo, a tiny mission in San Antonio, Texas. Losing their lives in defense of this small church were legendary heroes Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Tr
Regular readers know that I enjoy occasionally indulging in a historic "What if … ?" That is, how would history have been different if such-and-such an event had occurred, or had produced a different outcome.
A classic "What if … ?" occurred this week (Feb. 15) in 1933 when Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had recently defeated H
"My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was the proudest act of my life."
– John Adams
This week (Feb. 4) in 1801, John Marshall was sworn in as chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Marshall would serve for 34 years while writing the most important Supreme Court decision in American histo
"The surest thing there is is we are riders,
And though none too successful at it, guiders."
— Robert Frost, Riders
America's most famous poet, who died this week (Jan. 29) in 1963, lived an eventful life. Robert Frost won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry, still a record, and many of his p
"It may be a blessing in disguise." — Winston Churchill's wife, Clementine, commenting on his election defeat in 1945, right after winning World War II.
"If so, it is well disguised." — Churchill's response.
My candidate for Man of the 20th Century died this week (Jan. 24) in 1965, having deservedly earn
I will not make a habit of writing about rock & roll history, but it is indelibly part of our cultural history, and this week (Jan. 19) in 1943 marks the birthday of my choice for the greatest white female singer of rock, blues and soul who ever lived. Her name was Janis Joplin. I saw her in concert twice, and never before or since have I se
This week (Jan. 10 by the Roman calendar) in 49 BC, Roman proconsul Julius Cesar and his army crossed the Rubicon River, which marked the boundary between the Roman province of Gaul and Italy proper. In doing so, Caesar defied the Roman Senate, which had warned him that to cross the Rubicon with his army would make him an outlaw, punishable by d