On this day in 1875 the 17th President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, died from a stroke in Tennessee. Vice-President Johnson became President on April 15th 1865 upon the death of Abraham Lincoln. Thus Johnson had to lead the country into the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. He often feuded with Republicans, who considered his policies too lenient to the South. Johnson is mostly remembered as the first President to be impeached; he was acquitted by a single vote in the Senate. He left office in 1869, and has typically placed very low on historical rankings. He returned to the Senate in March 1875, and is the only President to have done so. Upon his death, he was buried with a copy of the Constitution with his body wrapped in an American flag.
On this day in 1965, US President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Social Security Act into law, which established Medicare and Medicaid. Thus, health insurance was extended to the elderly and the poor. The legislation was a key part of Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ programme. He signed the bill in Independence, Missouri, and the ceremony was attended by Harry S. Truman, who had tried to achieve a similar goal during his presidency.
On this day in 1948, the Games of the XIV (14th) Olympiad officially began in London. The Games were the first Summer Olympics after World War Two, which caused a 12 year hiatus of the Games. The last Olympics had been held in 1936 in Berlin. The 1948 Games became known as the Austerity Games as they were held at a time of a struggling post-war economy. They were held in Wembley Stadium, with no new venues built. 59 nations took part with the notable exceptions of wartime aggressors Germany and Japan who were not invited, and the USSR who declined participation. There were 4,104 athletes (only 390 were women). The United States won the most medals with 84, and the most gold medals with 38. These historic Games began on this day in 1948 and were officially opened by King George VI (the father of the current Queen). The Games returned to London for a third time 64 years later in 2012.
On this day in 1914, World War One began when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This came when Serbia rejected the conditions of the Habsburg ultimatum following the assassination of Austria-Hungary’s heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand by a Serb. The world’s major powers soon became involved as alliances were invoked.
On this day in 1890 artist Vincent van Gogh, aged 37, shot himself in the chest with a revolver in Auvers-sur-Oise in northern France. The shot did not cause serious damage to his internal organs, but van Gogh died two days later from infection in the wound. Throughout his life van Gogh suffered from anxiety and poor mental health. At his funeral his body was surrounded by his paintings and sunflowers. He died a little-known artist, but since his death his work has been fully appreciated and he is now regarded as one of the great artists.
“The sadness will last forever”
– van Gogh’s last words
On this day in 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 to abolish racial discrimination in the military, which led to desegregation. Full desegregation in the United States did not begin until after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education which ruled segregation unconstitutional.
On this day in 1943 the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was forced from office by his own Italian Grand Council. He was replaced by Pietro Badoglio. Mussolini had been in power since 1922 but his popularity had been declining due to his totalitarian rule and his leading Italy into World War Two. On July 24th 1943 the Council voted to restore powers to the King and the next day King Victor Emmanuel III had him arrested. Mussolini soon escaped and fled, but was tracked down and executed on 28th April 1945.
On this day in 1911, American historian Hiram Bingham III re-discovered the ‘Lost City of the Incas’: Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is a 15th Century Inca estate built for emperor Pachacuti and is located in the mountains of Peru. The site lay largely undisturbed for hundreds of years, with only locals knowing of its existence. However, with Bingham’s re-discovery of the site it became known to the wider world. He took artefacts from the site to Yale University for examination and only recently has the university agreed to return them to Peru. Reconstruction work began and the site has become a major tourist attraction.
On this day in 1885, former Civil War general and 18th President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant died. He became a national icon after he led the Union to victory over Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces in the Civil War and secured Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865. He became President in 1869, and enforced Reconstruction and civil rights laws. However, his presidency was marred by stories of his alcoholism and corruption in his administartion. He left the office in 1877, and launched an unsuccessful bid for a third term in 1880. In 1885 he died of throat cancer at the age of 63 and his body lay in state.
“I hope that nobody will be distressed on my account.”
– Grant’s last words
On this day in 1937, the United States Senate voted down President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plan to add more justices to the Supreme Court. The Court, under Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, had repeatedly struck down key elements of the President’s ‘New Deal’ programme to end the Great Depression. FDR threatened to increase the number of justices on the Court by adding 6 associate justices to assist the elder justices. Thus, the President would have been able to ‘pack’ the Court with his supporters and get his legislation upheld. Congress struck down these provisions of the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill. However, the Court responded to the President’s threat and did begin to vote more favourably on New Deal legislation.