History, Holidays & Observances on January 15

Elizabeth I crowned Queen, Robert Morris asks Congress to adopt coinage and a national mint, British Museum, War of 1812, Civil War, Donkeys & the Democrat Party, Coca-Cola, Spartacist Uprising, Spanish Civil War, Pope John Paul II & Lech Walesa

Major Events on January 15

1559 – Elizabeth I is crowned Queen of England in Westminster Abbey, London.

Elizabeth I was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife, whom Henry executed two-and-a-half years after Elizabeth’s birth because he wanted to bed Jane Seymour (and, he hoped, get his much-wanted and needed son). Elizabeth I reigned for 44 years, from this date in 1559 until 1603.

Over her long reign, Elizabeth brought stability to England. She kept a cautious foreign policy, was moderate (for the time) in her domestic and religious policies, and encouraged the creation of a strong navy through her support of privateers and far flung naval expeditions, such as those carried out by Sir Francis Drake. Elizabeth, though always with her feet on land, was in fact a pirate Queen.

England flourished under her stable reign. English drama reached its pinnacle under Elizabeth, led by William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. And the prowess of England’s navy became legend when, in 1588, England faced an invasion from Catholic Spain.

Spain launched the Armada, a fleet of over 130 ships to ferry soldiers to invade England. Francis Drake had build much smaller ships for the British navy. They were intended to raid the Spanish, and were faster, more maneuverable, and better armed than the Spanish Galleons. The two forces made contact in the English Channel. When the Armada went to anchor off Calais, the English launched a night attack, setting ablaze several ships and sending them into the anchored Spanish fleet. The fleet dispersed and the invasion was foiled. Many of the Spanish ships were lost at sea and never returned to port. Others reputedly straggled over to Ireland and there have long been rumors of Spanish blood in Irish people.

Before news of Drake’s naval victory over the Spanish reached Elizabeth, she was invited to review the army drawn up for the land defense of England. She appeared before her soldiers wearing a silver cuirass over her royal robes and sitting on a grey gelding. Her speech to the men has passed down through history. Kate Blanchett’s version below captures the spirit of it:

The victory over the Spanish and Elizabeth’s speech to the troops at Tilbury were seminal events in driving English nationalism. “The boost to national pride from the defeat of the Spanish invasion attempt lasted for years and Elizabeth’s legend persisted and grew long after her death.” After the passing of her reign, Elizabeth was lionized as “a heroine of the Protestant cause and the ruler of a golden age.”

1782 – Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris goes before the U.S. Congress to recommend establishment of a national mint and decimal coinage.

One of the most surprising things one learns when studying the colonial era in depth is just how chaotic the economic realities were in Britain’s colonies. England of the 17th century and, after 1707, Britain of the 18th century practiced mercantilism, hoarding its precious metals, never adequately providing for anywhere near enough British coin to circulate in the colonies to meet the needs of the growing colonies. Moreover, Britain prevented the colonies from minting their own coinage.

With world trade increasing exponentially, real incomes starting to rise for the first time in history, and no banking system or ability to mint coin, it was chaotic. Often times, colonists would simply trade goods and services among themselves by bartering – such as, for example, a butcher paying for medical care with bacon. At the level of the colony itself, several tried to use commodities themselves as legal tender. So in Virginia, where the colonial government would set the value of a barrel of tobacco, you could pay your debts or be paid for your debts with warehouse receipts entitling the holder to redeem the receipts for the tobacco.

All of the colonies attempted to print their own currency at various points. Often they overprinted, leading to inflation and the quick devaluing of the currency. Indeed, by the mid-18th century, British merchants refused to accept this colonial paper currency and petitioned the British government to make it illegal for any colony to print currency that would be used to settle private debts.

That said, a significant portion of the colonial economy came from the foreign coins introduced through trade. Thirty-three foreign coins commonly circulated in the colonies, By far the leading specie coin circulating in America was the Spanish silver dollar, defined as consisting of 387 grains of pure silver. The dollar was divided into “pieces of eight,” or “bits,” each consisting of one-eighth of a dollar. The Spanish silver dollar had been the world’s outstanding coin since the early 16th century, and was spread partially by dint of the vast silver output from the Spanish colonies in Latin America. More important, however, was that the Spanish dollar, from the 16th to the 19th century, was relatively the most stable and least debased coin in the Western world.

For a colonist to use foreign coin as a basis for his or her transactions, the colonist needed to know the coins’ value relative to the British pound sterling for each. This meant that basic transactions required cumbersome mathematical calculations, specialized almanacs, and extensive knowledge of foreign coinage weights, measures, and values.

After the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781, Congress created the post of Superintendent of Finance and appointed the rich Philadelphia merchant, Robert Morris, to the post. Morris did his best to put the fledgling nation’s finances in order. One of his first steps was, on this date, to recommend the adoption of decimal based coinage and the creation of a national mint. I have not been able to determine why Congress rejected the proposal, but in fact they did. Morris’s best efforts would all be for naught and he resigned his post in 1784 in frustration.

Notable Events on January 15

1541 – King Francis I of France, on this date, gave Jean-François Roberval a commission to settle the province of New France (Canada) and provide for the spread of the “Holy Catholic faith.” Roberval’s efforts failed, and it would not be until the 17th century that France began to successfully colonize North America.

1759 – The British Museum, the first national public museum, opens to the public on this date. It hosts one of the largest and most eclectic collection of historical objects documenting much of human history. Among its more famous articles are the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles. If you are ever in London, it is a wonderful place to spend a day . . . or a week or so.

1815 – War of 1812: American frigate USS President, commanded by Commodore Stephen Decatur, is captured by a squadron of four British frigates. The action took place several weeks after the treaty ending the war had been signed.

1844 – University of Notre Dame receives its charter from the state of Indiana. It was originally an all-male private Catholic college. Now it is multi-gendered and only nominally Catholic.

1865 – American Civil War: Fort Fisher in North Carolina fell to an attack under the command of Union General Ulysses S. Grant, thus cutting off the last major seaport of the Confederacy. Confederate General Robert E. Lee would surrender his army to Grant within three months, bringing America’s most bloody war to a close.

1870 – A political cartoon, “A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly, for the first time associates the Democratic Party (the “Copperheads”) with a donkey. Democrats have proudly demonstrated their jackassery ever since.

1889 – The Coca-Cola Company, then known as the Pemberton Medicine Company, is incorporated in Atlanta. This was back in the days when Coca-Cola actually contained a triple threat – cocaine, caffeine and sugar. It was a real pick-me-up.

1892 – Lilly-white James Naismith publishes the rules of basketball, inventing a new sport. The cultural appropriation that has occurred since is simply horrifying.

1919 – Marxists in Berlin tried to replicate the Bolshevik Revolution in Germany with the Spartacist uprising. It was easily put down and the two Marxist leaders of the uprising, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, were captured, tortured and murdered by the Freikorps.

1919 – Boston Molassacre: For three hundred years, Bostonians had been using massive amounts of molasses, mostly to turn into alcohol. On this day in 1919, in the North End of Boston, the molasses fought back.

A large storage tank filled with 2,300,000 US gal . . . of molasses burst, and the resultant wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph, killing 21 and injuring 150. The event entered local folklore and residents claimed for decades afterwards that the area still smelled of molasses on hot summer days

1937 – Spanish Civil War: Nationalists and Republican both withdraw after suffering heavy losses, ending the Second Battle of the Corunna Road. The Civil War was mostly fought between fascists and communists. The pity was that both sides didn’t lose.

1943 – The Pentagon is dedicated in Arlington, Virginia.

The Pentagon is the world’s largest office building, with about 6,500,000 sq ft of space, of which 3,700,000 sq ft are used as offices. Some 23,000 military and civilian employees, and another 3,000 non-defense support personnel, work in the Pentagon. It has five sides, five floors above ground, two basement levels, and five ring corridors per floor with a total of 17.5 mi of corridors. The central five-acre pentagonal plaza is nicknamed “ground zero” on the presumption that it would be a prime target in a nuclear war.

1947 – The Black Dahlia murder: the dismembered corpse of Elizabeth Short was found in Los Angeles. The crime has never been solved.

1981 – No two people were more directly associated with the end of Soviet control of Central and Eastern Europe and the fall of Soviet Communism than Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa, the leader of the Polish trade union, Solidarity. On this day, Pope John Paul II received a delegation from Solidarity at the Vatican led by Lech Wałęsa.

2001 – Wikipedia, a free wiki content encyclopedia, goes online. It is a superb site for those entries that are not controversial. As to anything that touches on a progressive hot button, it is policed by the left and few of its entries are trustworthy.

2009 – US Airways Flight 1549 collides with birds less than two minutes after take-off. The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, in an act of incredible skill, glided the plane to a ditching in the Hudson River off Midtown Manhattan, an act that resulted in no fatalities and few serious injuries.

2019 – Islamic terrorists of al Shabaab attacked the DusitD2 hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 21 people and injuring 19.

2019 – Theresa May’s UK government suffers the biggest government defeat in modern times, when 432 MPs vote against the proposed European Union withdrawal agreement, giving her opponents a majority of 230. Theresa May tried to appease everyone and wounded up angering most with her half-hearted attempts at leading Britain out of the EU.

Born on January 15

1623 – Algernon Sidney, a significant figure during and after the English Civil War. Sidney was a fierce proponent of Republican government. His magnum opus on government, Discources Concerning Government, was published after his death and after the Glorious Revolution of the late 17th century. Unfortunately, that revolution came too late for Sidney who died a Whig martyr to Charles II’s ax for his role in the Rye House Plot. Ironically, another participant in that plot also wrote a book on the philosophy of government that is not all that much different than Sidney’s. But he escaped the ax, and while Sidney’s work has largely been lost to history, John Locke’s 2nd Treatise on Government has passed into our American canon.

1754 – Richard Martin, an extremely colorful figure out of Ireland who survived two shipwrecks and fought in over a hundred duels with pistol and sword. But he is most famous for being a co-founder of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals during a time when public abhorrence of the cruelty of such spectacles as bull baiting, dog fighting and cock fighting reached critical mass in Great Britain.

1902 – Saud of Saudi Arabia, who rose to be named King of Saudi Arabia following the death of his father in 1953. He proved a spendthrift and, by 1958, with the kingdom’s debt almost doubled and credit unavailable, he was was forced to turn over many of his executive powers to his brother, Faisal. In 1964, Saud was fully deposed in a coup by Faisal and left Saudi Arabia.

1909 – Gene Krupa, one of the most notable drummers of the Swing Era, playing with some of the great bands of the time, including Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Woody Herman, in addition to fronting his own band for a period.

1913 – Eugène Brands, a modern Dutch painter whose work is inspired by children’s drawings.

As Ms. BWR comments:

Art used to exist either to represent and memorialize images of the world as it is, or to create faith-based paintings that showed religion’s heroes and martyrs or that imagined the afterlife, whether in Heaven or Hell. In the 19th Century, art fell victim to two things: photography and the end of faith. Now, art has only two purposes: pure aestheticism, which can be lovely, depending on the artist’s talent; and political statement, which is always ugly and seems to be the exclusive purview of those without talent.

1918 – Gamal Abdel Nasser, as a colonel, led a coup against the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. Surviving an assassination attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood, he soon took over the Egyptian government and became a dictator, holding power until the end of his life. He earned great praise for nationalizing the Suez Canal, but ultimately, the pan-Arab nationalism and socialism he pursued both failed. His reputation suffered significantly after the Israeli victory in the 1967 War.

1920 – Cardinal John O’Connor, a priest who long served in the U.S. Navy. He was later raised to the rank of cardinal and the Archbishop of New York by Pope John Paul II. In that position, he was a colorful and popular figure who refused to bend to the progressive winds.

1929 – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the most notable figure of the black Civil Rights Movement that, at its most noble and laudable, sought equality and that people be “judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” Today, the civil rights movement is an obscene caricature of MLK’s dream, having been hijacked by progressives and put towards the ends of creating permanent racial divisions in the U.S. While MLK’s birthday is today, the federal holiday celebrated in his honor falls on the third Monday in January.

Died on January 15

1896 – Mathew Brady, the “father of photojournalism,” was one of the earliest and most famous photographers in history. Brady photographed 18 of 19 Presidents, from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley, with his photos of Lincoln used for the $5 bill and the penny. But Brady is most famous for his overseeing his assistants, whom he dispatched to the battlefields,  document the Civil War.

1972 – Daisy Ashford peaked as an author when she was young. Quite young, actually. She dictated her first novel to her father when she was four. Then, in 1890, when she was nine, she wrote a novella, The Young Visiters [sic]. She stopped writing as a teen, but after WWI, she had her juvenile work published and it proved a big hit, going through 18 reprints in its first year of publication. Ms. BWR, who has read The Young Visiters, calls her work “charming” and recommends it highly. You have to love such timeless sentences as “My own idea is that these things are as piffle before the wind,” or “Bernard always had a few prayers in the hall and some whiskey afterwards as he was rather pious.”

2019 – Carol Channing, one of the more famous and popular comic actresses of the stage and screen during the 1950’s through the 70’s. She was born of a white mother and a half black father, but did not reveal her ancestry until 2002. Ms. BWR ran into her once quite literally — or, to be more precise, Channing ran into Ms. BWR. Channing and Ms. BWR attended the same high school so, when Channing came to town, the high school banned was invited to stand behind her on stage and play along as she sang “Hello, Dolly.” When Channing left the stage in a dramatic dash, clothed in her lavish 19th century costume, she crashed into Ms. BWR, who has since remarked that Channing was a tall and robust woman. Ms. BWR also saw Channing perform in the stage show of Hello, Dolly and says she was fabulous. The same personality that overwhelmed the small screen, wonderfully dominated the stage.