Year
1846

House resolves to stop sharing Oregon

Boldly reversing its long-standing policy of “free and open” occupation in the disputed Oregon Territory, the U.S. House of Representatives passes a resolution calling for an end to British-American sharing of the region. The United States, one congressman asserted, had “the right of our manifest destiny to spread over our whole continent.”

In different circumstances, such aggressive posturing might have led to war. The British, through their Hudson Bay Company at the mouth of the Columbia River, had a reasonable claim to the disputed territory of modern-day Washington. In contrast, the only part of the Oregon Territory the U.S. could legitimately claim by settlement was the area below the Columbia River. Above the river, there were only eight recently arrived Americans in 1845. Nonetheless, the aggressively expansionistic President James Polk coveted Oregon Territory up to the 49th parallel (the modern-day border with Canada). Yet Polk was also on the verge of war with Mexico in his drive to take that nation’s northern provinces, and he had no desire to fight the British and Mexicans at the same time.

Consequently, Polk had to move cautiously. Some of his fellow Democrats in the Congress pushed him to be even more aggressive, demanding that Americans control the territory all the way up to the 54th parallel, approximately where Edmonton, Alberta, is today. For five months, debate raged in Congress over the “Oregon controversy,” but the House resolution in January made it clear that the U.S. was determined to end the joint occupation with Great Britain.

Luckily, the British agreed to abandon their claim to the area north of the Columbia and accept the 49th parallel as a border. The Hudson Bay Company already had decided to relocate its principal trading post from the Columbia River area to Vancouver Island, leaving the British with little interest in maintaining their claim to area. Despite the cries of betrayal from the advocates of the 54th parallel, Polk wisely accepted the British offer to place the border on the 49th parallel. The new boundary not only gave the U.S. more territory than it had any legitimate claim to, but it also left Polk free to pursue his next objective: a war with Mexico for control of the Southwest.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Prague Spring begins in Czechoslovakia

Antonin Novotny, the Stalinist ruler of Czechoslovakia, is succeeded as first secretary by Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak who supports liberal reforms. In the first few months of his rule, Dubcek introduced a series of far-reaching political and economic reforms, including increased ...read more

Pol Pot renames Cambodia

On this day in 1976, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot announces a new constitution changing the name of Cambodia to Kampuchea and legalizing its Communist government. During the next three years his brutal regime sent the nation back to the Middle Ages and was responsible for the ...read more

Kamikaze pilots get first order

On this day in 1945, Japanese pilots received the first order to become kamikaze, meaning “divine wind” in Japanese. The suicidal blitz of the kamikazes revealed Japan’s desperation in the final months of World War II. Most of Japan’s top pilots were dead, but youngsters needed ...read more

First divorce in the colonies

In the first record of a legal divorce in the American colonies, Anne Clarke of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is granted a divorce from her absent and adulterous husband, Denis Clarke, by the Quarter Court of Boston, Massachusetts. In a signed and sealed affidavit presented to ...read more

Dreyfus Affair in France

French officer Alfred Dreyfus, condemned for passing military secrets to the Germans, is stripped of his rank in a humiliating public ceremony in the courtyard of Paris’ Ecole Militaire. The Jewish artillery captain, convicted on flimsy evidence in a highly irregular trial, began ...read more

Golden Gate Bridge is born

On January 5, 1933, construction begins on the Golden Gate Bridge, as workers began excavating 3.25 million cubic feet of dirt for the structure’s huge anchorages.Following the Gold Rush boom that began in 1849, speculators realized the land north of San Francisco Bay would ...read more

New York Yankees announce purchase of Babe Ruth

On this day in 1920, the New York Yankees major league baseball club announces its purchase of the heavy-hitting outfielder George Herman “Babe” Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for the sum of $125,000.In all, Ruth had played six seasons with the Red Sox, leading them to three World ...read more

Truman delivers his Fair Deal speech

On this day in 1949, President Harry S. Truman announces, in his State of the Union address, that every American has a right to expect from our government a fair deal.In a reference to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, Truman announced his plans for domestic policy reforms ...read more

Nixon launches the space shuttle program

Also on this day in presidential history, Richard Nixon signs a bill authorizing $5.5 million in funding to develop a space shuttle. The space shuttle represented a giant leap forward in the technology of space travel. Designed to function more like a cost-efficient “reusable” ...read more

Alexandre Dumas pere fights a duel

On this day, 23-year-old Alexandre Dumas fights his first duel. He sustains no serious injury, although his pants fall down in the fight. He’ll later fill his romantic works, including The Three Musketeers, with duels, battles, and daring escapades.Dumas was the son of one of ...read more

Sonny Bono killed in skiing accident

In his characteristically blunt and self-deprecating manner, Sonny Bono transformed himself relatively late in his life, morphing from the shorter, homelier, masculine half of a 1960s husband-and-wife singing and acting sensation (alongside his glamorous third wife, Cher) into a ...read more

Landslides kill 33 in California

On this day in 1982, a series of landslides near San Francisco, California, kills up to 33 people and closes the Golden Gate Bridge. In all, an amazing 18,000 different landslides took place in the San Francisco Bay Area following a very heavy rain storm.Two fast-moving fronts ...read more