History, Holidays & Observances on December 15

Today: The History of the Bill of Rights, Prohibition Ends, Battle of Nashville, the Holocaust in the Ukraine, Nero, Sitting Bull, Christmas Music

And More . . .

Holidays and Observances on Dec. 15

Bill of Rights Day – Today we celebrate the Bill of Rights becoming the law of the land in the U.S. on this day in 1791. Much more on that below under Major Events.

Feast of St. Virginia Centurione BracelliSt. Virginia Centurione was a noblewoman born in Genoa. She married and had two daughters before her husband passed. A widow at age 20, she refused another marriage and took a vow of chastity. She gathered together a group of like minded women in her area and established a religious organization, the Daughters of Mount Calvary. She and her sisters took no vows, but were bound together by a solemn promise to follow the Rule of St. Francis and to pledge themselves to the service of the poor and the sick.

To help alleviate the poverty in her town, the Daughters of Mount Calvary founded the “Cento Signore della Misericordia Protettrici dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo”. The center was soon overrun with people suffering from the famine and plague of 1629–30 and soon she had to rent the Monte Calvario convent to accommodate all the people that came in. Around 1635 the center was caring for over 300 patients and received recognition as a hospital from the government. St. Virginia Centurione spent the remainder of her life continuing her work for the poor before passing on in 1651 at the age of 64.

The organization the Saint started outlived her and soon spread through northern Italy. In 1815 Pope Pius VII invited the sisters to Rome, and in 1833 Gregory XVI assigned them a house on the Esquiline, near the church of St. Norbert, now the chief house of the institute. The remains of St. Virginia Centurione have been found “incorruptible,” – i.e., that her body never decomposed after death. Her remains are on display at the chief house of the institute in Rome.


Major Events on Dec. 15

1791 – The United States Bill of Rights becomes law when ratified by the Virginia General Assembly.

Our Founding Fathers not only did not draft the Bill of Rights when the created the Constitution in 1787, they actively rejected adding a Bill of Rights when it was proposed by George Mason during the Constitutional Convention. How then did we end up, three years after the Constitution had been ratified and gone into effect, with a Bill of Rights, that being the first ten Amendments to the Constitution.?

In 1787, when the Constitutional Convention was meeting, a “Bill of Rights” was a common part of many Constitutions limiting the power of governments. In Britain, the Magna Carta of 1215 and the Bill of Rights of 1689 limited the power of the King, both as to the legislature and as to powers over individual citizens. Most of the states in the newly formed United States already had their own state Bill of Rights. So a “Bill of Rights” was not an innovation.

Yet the members of the Constitutional Convention rejected the idea of a Bill of Rights in 1787. The majority felt that it was unnecessary, since the federal government they had crafted was one of limited and specific powers. Obviously this was long before progressive Courts “discovered” that the Interstate Commerce Clause gave near unlimited power to the federal government. Our Founders lacked the imagination to foresee the tactics the modern progressive movement employed and how they would redefine the Constitution’s language.

Be that as it may, one, the Drafters expected the “rights of Englishmen” to be honored against the federal government at common law in the Courts, just as they were in Britain. Two, they were concerned that, in the future, the Courts might interpret any enumeration of certain specific rights as an exclusive list, thus perhaps limiting common law recognition of rights outside of the list.

In the ratification debates that followed in the States, two factions emerged. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, supported the Constitution as it was drafted in the convention and resisted the idea of enumerating additional rights. The Anti-Federalists spanned the spectrum from those who opposed the Constitution as written to those who simply demanded that an enumeration of rights be included in the Constitution to further limit the power of the Federal government as to individuals and the states.

The first five states to ratify the Constitution, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut, did so without any limitations. The ratification conventions in the rest of the states each approved of the Constitution, but did so subject to proposed amendments to the Constitution submitted to Congress along with their ratification decision. Many of the proposals involved structural changes that would fundamentally alter the plan of government in the Constitution. The rest of the proposals were for an enumeration of specific individual rights.

James Madison soon saw the writing on the wall, that there needed to be a Bill of Rights, barring which the states might demand that the entire Constitution be revised. He gathered the over 200 proposed amendments to the Constitution issued by the State ratifying conventions. He ignored those that proposed structural changes to the Constitution and that would have created a new governing framework. He distilled the rest into twenty proposed Amendments.

June 8, 1789, Madison presented his proposed amendments to the Congress. In the speech he delivered that day, he said:

For while we feel all these inducements to go into a revisal of the constitution, we must feel for the constitution itself, and make that revisal a moderate one. I should be unwilling to see a door opened for a re-consideration of the whole structure of the government, for a re-consideration of the principles and the substance of the powers given; because I doubt, if such a door was opened, if we should be very likely to stop at that point which would be safe to the government itself: But I do wish to see a door opened to consider, so far as to incorporate those provisions for the security of rights, against which I believe no serious objection has been made by any class of our constituents.

Madison then proposed his twenty Amendments to be made to the body of the Constitution:

The amendments which have occurred to me, proper to be recommended by congress to the state legislatures are these:

First. That there be prefixed to the constitution a declaration That all power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from the people.

That government is instituted, and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their government, whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purposes of its institution.

Secondly. That in article 2nd. section 2, clause 3, these words be struck out, to wit, “The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one representative, and until such enumeration shall be made.” And that in place thereof be inserted these words, to wit, “After the first actual enumeration, there shall be one representative for every thirty thousand, until the number amount to after which the proportion shall be so regulated by congress, that the number shall never be less than nor more than but each state shall after the first enumeration, have at least two representatives; and prior thereto.”

Thirdly. That in article 2nd, section 6, clause 1, there be added to the end of the first sentence, these words, to wit, “But no law varying the compensation last ascertained shall operate before the next ensuing election of representatives.”

Fourthly. That in article 2nd, section 9, between clauses 3 and 4, be inserted these clauses, to wit,The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience by in any manner, or on any pretext infringed

The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.

The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good, nor from applying to the legislature by petitions, or remonstrances for redress of their grievances.

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.

No soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner; nor at any time, but in a manner warranted by law.

No person shall be subject, except in cases of impeachment, to more than one punishment, or one trial for the same office; nor shall be compelled to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor be obliged to relinquish his property, where it may be necessary for public use, without a just compensation.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The rights of the people to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, to be informed of the cause and nature of the accusation, to be confronted with his accusers, and the witnesses against him; to have a compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

The exceptions here or elsewhere in the constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people; or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the constitution; but either as actual limitations of such powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.

Fifthly. That in article 2nd, section 10, between clauses 1 and 2, be inserted this clause, to wit: No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.

Sixthly. That article 3rd, section 2, be annexed to the end of clause 2nd, these words to wit: but no appeal to such court shall be allowed where the value in controversy shall not amount to————dollars: nor shall any fact triable by jury, according to the course of common law, be otherwise re—examinable than may consist with the principles of common law.

Seventhly. That in article 3rd, section 2, the third clause be struck out, and in its place be inserted the classes following, to wit:

The trial of all crimes (except in cases of impeachments, and cases arising in the land or naval forces, or the militia when on actual service in time of war or public danger) shall be by an impartial jury of freeholders of the vicinage, with the requisite of unanimity for conviction, of the right of challenge, and other accustomed requisites; and in all crimes punishable with loss of life or member, presentment or indictment by a grand jury shall be an essential preliminary, provided that in cases of crimes committed within any county which may be in possession of an enemy, or in which a general insurrection may prevail, the trial may by law be authorized in some other county of the same state, as near as may be to the seat of the offence.

In cases of crimes committed not within any county, the trial may by law be in such county as the laws shall have prescribed. In suits at common law, between man and man, the trial by jury, as one of the best securities to the rights of the people, ought to remain inviolate.

Eighthly. That immediately after article 6th, be inserted, as article 7th, the clauses following, to wit:

The powers delegated by this constitution, are appropriated to the departments to which they are respectively distributed: so that the legislative department shall never exercise the powers vested in the executive or judicial; nor the executive exercise the powers vested in the legislative or judicial; nor the judicial exercise the powers vested in the legislative or executive departments.

The powers not delegated by this constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively.

Ninthly. That article 7th, be numbered as article 8th.

Congress took these recommendations under consideration.

[The House], after initially forwarding the amendments to a select committee for revision . . . agreed to take Madison’s proposal up as a full body beginning on July 21, 1789.

The eleven-member committee made some significant changes to Madison’s nine proposed amendments, including eliminating most of his preamble and adding the phrase “freedom of speech, and of the press”. The House debated the amendments for eleven days.

Roger Sherman of Connecticut persuaded the House to place the amendments at the Constitution’s end so that the document would “remain inviolate”, rather than adding them throughout, as Madison had proposed. The amendments, revised and condensed from twenty to seventeen, were approved and forwarded to the Senate on August 24, 1789.

The Senate edited these amendments still further, making 26 changes of its own. Madison’s proposal to apply parts of the Bill of Rights to the states as well as the federal government was eliminated, and the seventeen amendments were condensed to twelve, which were approved on September 9, 1789.The Senate also eliminated the last of Madison’s proposed changes to the preamble.

On September 21, 1789, a House–Senate Conference Committee convened to resolve the numerous differences between the two Bill of Rights proposals. On September 24, 1789, the committee issued [a] report, which finalized 12 Constitutional Amendments for House and Senate to consider. This final version was approved by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, to be forwarded to the states on September 28.

On this date in 1791, three-fourths of the several (14) states had approved ten of the twelve amendments and they today became operative as the Bill of Rights. The two not approved concerned the number of representatives in the House, which has never been approved, and a limitation on Congress voting itself raises in salaries. It was ratified as the Twenty-Seventh Amendment in 1992.

For much of our history, the Bill of Rights was only held to limit the power of the federal government. That slowly changed after the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868, and the Supreme Court, since 1920, has, in a series of cases, considered whether individual provisions of the Bill of Rights were “incorporated” by the 14th Amendment to apply to state and local governments as well. The vast majority have been. Only a few, such as the 5th Amendment right to indictment by a grand jury, have not.

1933 – Prohibition, Started In 1920, Ends

European tradition for well over a millennium had been to drink only mildly alcoholic beverages. Water was often polluted, but the process of fermentation killed off all harmful bacteria, rendering alcoholic drinks safe to consume.

By the early 19th century, as more and more hard liquors were consumed in place of low alcohol beverages, alcoholism and problem drinking became a national curse. That led a lot of very well meaning people, largely a combination of Protestants and Progressives, to join the temperance movement, opposing all sale and consumption of alcohol. Their staunch opposition to consuming alcohol had an effect, as by the mid-19th century alcohol consumption was declining in the U.S.

But in the 20th century, Progressives pushed the movement from voluntary to lawfully mandatory, ensconcing Prohibition into Constitutional law in 1920 with the 18th Amendment. It proved an unnecessary disaster. During Prohibition, organized crime flourished, and as police resources went to enforcing prohibition, the overall crime rate rocketed up in America. Levels of alcohol consumption dropped some at first, but then with the black market, returned to past levels.

Moreover, Prohibition came with significant economic consequences:

Many farmers who fought for prohibition now fought for repeal because of the negative effects it had on the agriculture business. Prior to the 1920 implementation of the Volstead Act, approximately 14% of federal, state, and local tax revenues were derived from alcohol commerce. When the Great Depression hit and tax revenues plunged, the governments needed this revenue stream.

The thirteen year experiment in Prohibition had proved to be a disaster. Thus, on this date in 1933, the 21st Amendment went into effect, Prohibition ended, and FDR allegedly ordered a beer.

Notable Events on Dec. 15

1864 – At the Battle of Nashville: the Union’s Army of the Cumberland scored a decisive victory over the Confederacy’s Army of Tennessee, ending its effectiveness as a combat unit.

1890 – Hunkpapa Lakota leader Sitting Bull is killed on Standing Rock Indian Reservation, leading to the Wounded Knee Massacre.

1939 – Gone with the Wind (highest inflation adjusted grossing film) receives its premiere at Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. It is a love story set against the backdrop of Georgia during the period of the Civil War and then Reconstruction.

1941 – In German-controlled Ukraine, Nazi troops murdered over 15,000 Jews this day at Drobytsky Yar, a ravine southeast of the city of Kharkiv.

1945 – General Douglas MacArthur, commander of occupied Japan, ordered today that Shinto be abolished as the state religion of Japan. Japan had used the religion since about 1875 to promote nationalism.

1961 – Adolf Eichmann is sentenced to death on this day after being found guilty by an Israeli court of 15 criminal charges, including charges of crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and membership of an outlawed organization.

1973 – The American Psychiatric Association votes 13–0 to remove homosexuality from its official list of psychiatric disorders, the DSM-II.

1978 – U.S. President Jimmy Carter announces that the United States will recognize the People’s Republic of China and sever official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Born on Dec. 15

AD 37 – Nero, whose 14 year reign as Emperor of Rome was marked by sadism, tyranny and extravagance. He was most famous for presiding over the Great Fire of Rome, supposedly “fiddling while Rome burned,” and then engaging in a brutal persecution of Christians as scapegoats for the fire. Both apostles Peter and Paul were executed during the persecution. Nero himself committed suicide rather than be executed for his misrule.


1933 – Comedian Tim Conway, whose ad lib style of comedy worked famously on the Carol Burnett show, where he tried to surprise the other performers and get them to laugh. Probably best known are his “elephant” outtakes and his dentist sketch.


Died on Dec. 15

1675 – Johannes Vermeer, a Dutch Baroque era painter famed for the realism of his artworks. His work fell into obscurity following his death, but he was “rediscovered” in the 19th century and his work today is considered some of the finest of the Dutch Golden Age.

1944 – Glenn Miller, leader of the most popular band during the Swing Era. Miller’s 16 number-one records and 69 top ten hits was more than either Elvis Presley or the Beatles. He presumed dead on this day in 1944 when the plane in which he was flying disappeared over the Atlantic.


1966 – Walt Disney, animator, director, producer, screenwriter, and co-founder of The Walt Disney Company. A commentor, Neowayland, aptly summed up Walt Disney’s legacy recently: “For better or worse, he probably did more than any other single figure in the 20th Century to shape entertainment, technology, architecture, retail sales, public spaces, and leisure/vacation time.“

Christmas Music:

Handel Messiah – For Unto Us A Child Is Born

Winter Wonderland

The Carpenters