January 1 to January 15, 2020
It happened on New Year’s Day, 1863 — two years into a bloody war that pitted the Union against the Confederacy. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared: “on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State … shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…”.
That pronouncement was a critical decision that has rippled through the country’s history, with profound impact.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction And The Dawn Of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Tonya Bolden; a 2019 Grateful American Book Prize “Honorable Mention.”
President Andrew Johnson’s Secretary of State, William H. Seward, was widely criticized for signing an 1867 agreement with Russia to purchase the territory of Alaska. Critics called it “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Iceberg”, even though the price–$7.2 million–was only about two cents per acre for a landmass about one-fifth the size of the U.S.
But, Johnson’s “polar bear garden,” according to a detractor, turned out to be an acquisition rich in resources, particularly oil reserves; on January 3, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a proclamation making Alaska the 49th state– the largest in the Union.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Alaska’s History: The People, Land, and Events of the North Country by Harry Ritter.
One of the most decisive skirmishes in the War of 1812 was the Battle of New Orleans; it took place January 8, 1815 and lasted a few hours. Ironically, neither the British forces nor the American forces were aware that the Treaty of Ghent—already signed—had ended the war.
With the aid of buccaneer Jean Lafitte, his band of pirates, and sharpshooters from Kentucky and Tennessee, 4,500 U.S. troops under the command of General Andrew Jackson, stormed a British force of 7,500 soldiers. Jackson’s army incurred a minimal number of casualties–eight men dead and 13 wounded, but among the British troops two thousand were killed or wounded.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny by Brian Kilmeade.
The birthday of the American oil industry is January 10. In 1901, wildcatters brought in what was probably the first “gusher” in history–on Spindletop Hill, just five miles from Beaumont, TX. It spewed 100,000 barrels of crude oil a day, took more than a week to cap, and eventually birthed the first trillion-dollar industry in the world.
“Black Gold” propelled the inventions of the automobile and the airplane, and improved efficiencies in the older forms of transportation–ships and trains.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Spindletop Gusher: The Story of the Texas Oil Boom by Carmen Bredeson.
History Matters is a biweekly feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize.