History, Holidays & Observances on January 6, the Epiphany

Feast of the Epiphany, South Sea Bubble, FDR’s Four Freedom’s Speech, Harold Godwinson Reconquista, wives of Henry VIII, Continental drift, settled science, Mother Teresa, Trump confirmed as President, and more.

Holidays and Observances on January 6

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. As with Christmas, the Feast of the Epiphany was first celebrated in Ancient Rome during the 4th century. The celebration today commemorates not only the visit of the Magi, but has expanded over time to include celebrating all of Jesus’ childhood events, up to and including the Baptism by John the Baptist that was believed to have taken place on His thirtieth birthday. Of all of those events, in the Western Church, the holiday emphasized the visit of the Magi. The Magi represented the non-Jewish peoples of the world, so this was considered a “revelation to the gentiles.”

The story of the Magi appears in Matthew 2 1-12

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

We Three Kings of Orient Are, about the Magi, is an American Carol dating to 1857.

Major Events on January 6

1721 – The Committee of Inquiry on the South Sea Bubble publishes its findings.

The South Sea Bubble was one of the first great financial crises of the modern era of finance and banking. South Sea Company insiders created, and the public bit on, a scam. The stock market was a novelty at the time, and there were few laws that required transparency, nor were there laws limiting insider-trading, nor rules on purchasing stocks on margins.

The South Sea Company was chartered in 1711 as a joint stock company. The British government had set it up as an alternative means of financing and servicing government debt. To help the company generate revenue, the government granted it a monopoly on trade in the “South Seas” – i.e., in the South American countries on the Atlantic Coast.

At the time, this trade belonged wholly to Spain and its colonies in South America. While the monopoly sounded potentially lucrative – and England did hold some rights to the slave trade in the south seas – the reality was that there was little opportunity to turn a profit.

Regardless, in 1719, the company began marketing stock in the corporation, talking up the potential for profit. At the same time, it manipulated the timing for purchasing more government debt so as to create a fraudulent impression about its profitability.

The company was sufficiently successful in its wild claims that people of every class in Britain began lining up to buy shares, driving the share price up by nearly a factor of ten in a short period, reaching its apex in August, 1720. After that, between sell offs and margin calls, the share price dropped nearly as fast as it had risen. Thousands of investors were ruined, while the company insiders — all of whom were highly placed in British society, including people in government — emerged very wealthy.

The government appointed a Committed of Inquiry to determine what had happened and why. The report that they issued this day in 1721 was scathing, finding fraud both within the company and among government officials:

[The report] revealed widespread fraud amongst the company directors and corruption in the Cabinet. Among those implicated were John Aislabie (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), James Craggs the Elder (the Postmaster General), James Craggs the Younger (the Southern Secretary), and even Lord Stanhope and Lord Sunderland (the heads of the Ministry). Craggs the Elder and Craggs the Younger both died in disgrace; the remainder were impeached for their corruption. The Commons found Aislabie guilty of the “most notorious, dangerous and infamous corruption”, and he was imprisoned.

The newly appointed First Lord of the Treasury, Robert Walpole, successfully restored public confidence in the financial system. However, public opinion, as shaped by the many prominent men who lost money, demanded revenge. Walpole supervised the process, which removed all 33 of the company directors and stripped them of, on average, 82% of their wealth. The money went to the victims and the stock of the South Sea Company was divided between the Bank of England and the East India Company. Walpole made sure that King George and his mistresses were protected, and by a margin of three votes he managed to save several key government officials from impeachment. In the process, Walpole won plaudits as the savior of the financial system while establishing himself as the dominant figure in British politics; historians credit him for rescuing the Whig government, and indeed the Hanoverian Dynasty, from total disgrace.

Walpole’s dominance over English politics meant a great deal for the colonies. His policy of salutary neglect helped the American colonies grow rapidly through 1760. When that policy ended, it spelled the start of the American Revolution.

William Hogarth was the most famous political cartoonist of his day. The cartoon appended to this section of the post is Hogarth’s 1721 Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme. Click on the picture to enlarge it and click on the link in the preceding sentence to read Hogarth’s verse at the bottom of his cartoon.

1941 – United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers his Four Freedoms speech in the State of the Union address.

It is fascinating to read FDR’s 1941 State of the Union Speech given in January 1941, eleven months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. FDR was justifying his push to bring us into WWII to support the few remaining Allied Nations. Much of the U.S. was still isolationist even as Japan, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Italy were dividing up the world. The situation in the world on the day FDR gave his speech was dire:

  • Nazi Germany had overrun France and was waging an air and sea campaign against an isolated Britain. Elsewhere in Europe, the Nazis had invaded Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, and Romania
  • Italy had allied itself with Germany. They were at war in North Africa and had invaded Greece.
  • Japan held China and Korea and was propagandizing to drive all foreign countries out of Asia.
  • The Soviet Union had joined with the Nazis to attack Poland and the Soviets had invaded Finland. The Soviets had also taken part of Romania and installed Communist puppet regimes in the Baltic States.
  • In Spain, communists and fascists were fighting a civil war over control of the country.

FDR’s first looked at the history of the foreign wars of the U.S., opining that none of them involved direct threats to the security of the U.S. He then stated,

I find it, unhappily, necessary to report that the future and the safety of our country and of our democracy are overwhelmingly involved in events far beyond our borders.

Armed defense of democratic existence is now being gallantly waged in four continents. If that defense fails, all the population and all the resources of Europe, and Asia, and Africa and Australasia will be dominated by conquerors “

FDR never named the aggressor nations, no doubt trying not to create grounds for his political opponents to claim that his own belligerency forced the U.S. into WWII. He spent the majority of his speech on U.S. preparations for war, and on convincing Congress to support giving military aid to the democracies under attack.

FDR concluded his speech by stating that Americans needed social security and adequate health care, and then he called for “a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.”

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.

Those first two freedoms were non-controversial at the time, though I wonder if, even for FDR, they were mere stalking horses to impress the rubes. Certainly, for the modern progressive left who are the progeny of FDR, the first thing they did upon achieving cultural dominance was to begin wars on speech and religion.

The last two of FDR’s four “freedoms” are breathtaking. The third sounded as if it came right out of the Soviet Constitution of the time. And the Fourth, arms reduction to the point that every country is a eunuch, is so unrealistic as to invite aggression. As a reminder, this arms reduction is what Britain, France, and Woodrow Wilson (the first modern Progressive) tried to do to Germany after WWI, after which they sought to defund in large part their own military establishments.

Fortunately, Congress heeded the call of the main point in FDR’s speech, which was to authorize lend-lease and slowly to prepare for war. Even Hollywood got into the act with a musically dreadful, but emotionally strong song supporting the beleaguered Brits:

Unfortunately, the last two of the “four freedoms” FDR outlined became gospel for progressive internationalists. They were baked into the UN and progressives spent the better part of the next four decades promoting dismantling capitalism and, along with the Soviets, seeking to unilaterally disarm the U.S. Even now, there is not a progressive who does not look upon the defense budget as something to cut, or as something to repurpose towards progressive goals, as Obama did, using a significant portion of the defense budget to fund green energy.

Notable Events on January 6

1066 – Following the death of Edward the Confessor on the previous day, the Witan met this day to confirm Harold Godwinson as the new King of England. William the Bastard (aka William the Conqueror) also claimed a right to the throne. When he defeated Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings the Normans successfully Norman conquered England.

1492 – The Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella enter Granada, completing the Reconquista. Muslims radicals to this day consider it a justification for waging violent jihad against the West.

1540 – King Henry VIII of England marries Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife. The situation was quite bizarre. Henry did not care for her at first meeting but was duty bound to see through the marriage. He had his adviser, Thomas Cromwell, beheaded for treason simply because Cromwell had promoted the marriage. After six months of marriage, Anne wisely agreed to Henry VIII’s proposed annulment. By doing so, she kept her head, and remained a friend to Henry VIII living under his benefice. Henry went on to marry the young Catherine Howard, who lost her own head when she committed adultery, a treasonous activity against England’s king.

1893 – Congress, the political body controlling Washington, D.C., charters the Washington National Cathedral.President Benjamin Harrison signed the charter.

1907 – Maria Montessori opens her first school and daycare center for working class children in Rome, Italy. Ms. BWR swears by the methods practiced at Montessori schools as far superior to the methods used in public schools.

1912 – Alfred Wegener first presents his theory of continental drift. But the science was settled, so the establishment not only rejected his theory but sneered at it . . . until Wegener was finally proven in the 1950’s.

1929 – Mother Teresa arrives in Calcutta, India, to begin her work among India’s poorest and sick people. Canonized a Saint in 2015, Mother Teresa, who dedicated her life to helping others, was regularly criticized by the progressive left and others in competing religions. And when her life was publicized at the time of her canonization in 2015, the progressives complained that it was to divert attention from sex scandals within the Church.

2017 – “Despite objections,” the US Congress certifies Donald Trump winner of 2016 presidential election. That he survived the Hillary-paid-for coup, in the form of the Steele Dossier, is amazing. This was only a few weeks after Hillary’s campaign had been lobbying for members of the electoral college to receive an intelligence briefing telling them that the Trump campaign was being investigated for an illegal conspiracy with Russia. If this were five hundred years ago, the coup actors’ would have head their heads mounted on pikes atop the Washington monument. As it is today, with the progressive left being above the law, I don’t expect any of the political actors who conspired in this coup even to face jail time.

Born on January 6

1256 – Gertrude the Great, born on the Epiphany, a nun and a prolific author who experienced mystical visions. Though considered a saint, she was never formally canonized.

1367 – Richard II of England, whose reign was marked by periods of instability. While he succeeded in putting down the Peasant’s Revolt, he was more of a pacifist than a fighter. Ultimately, he was deposed, then murdered by Henry IV, something that would lead to the Wars of the Roses.

1412 – Joan of Arc, French martyr and saint who, as a young teen girl with visions, led the French Army to victory over the British near the conclusion of the Hundred Years War.

Died on January 6

429 – Honoratus, the noble son of Roman Gauls, he established, St. Patrick’s, a famous monastery, for his evangelical mission to Ireland. Honoratus, based on his reputation for piety, was called from seclusion and to assume the position of Archbishop of Aries. He was later canonized a saint.

1852 – Louis Braille had been blinded as a youth. He became a professor and eventually developed a system of reading and writing for use by the blind. His system remains virtually unchanged to this day.

1882 – Richard Henry Dana, Jr. who, in his youth, left Harvard and went on a two year voyage as a merchant seamen. He wrote about his experiences in the book, Two Years Before The Mast. It is one of the best first hand accounts available showing the life and duties of seamen aboard a ship during the age of sail.

1919 – Theodore Roosevelt, a man’s man and one of the great Presidents of the United States. Unfortunately, he also laid the foundation for the progressive movement to take hold in America.

1993 – Dizzy Gillespie, one of the great jazz trumpeters to emerge after the swing era. He was particularly noted for starting Afro-Caribbean jazz.

Header image: Header Image: Detail from The Three Magi, Byzantine mosaic c. 565, Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy