February 16 to February 28
Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future
by John Grimaldi and David Bruce Smith
In May of 1801, the United States got tangled in the First Barbary War. Pirates perched along the North African states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, and Libya were looting American ships in the Mediterranean; in June, President Thomas Jefferson deployed the Navy to provide protection. Two years later, the USS Philadelphia, — America’s state-of-the-art warship– was snatched when it ran aground near Tripoli and ramped up apprehension about whether the raiders would snag its advanced accoutrements to jazz up their vessels.
According to History.com, “hoping to prevent the Barbary pirates from gaining this military advantage, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a daring expedition into Tripoli harbor to destroy the captured American vessel on February 16, 1804.” Decatur and his marines and sailors managed to blow up the ship before its advanced features could be copied by the enemy. It was such an audacious excursion, famed British Admiral Horatio Nelson declared it to be the “most daring act of the age.”
For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The War That Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger.
Florida became a Spanish colony in 1565; in 1763, the Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War, and the territory was ceded to Britain. Later gyrations of geography generated 1783’s Second Treaty of Paris, the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, and Spain’s re-possession of Florida.
“Spain’s hold on Florida was tenuous in the years after American independence, and numerous boundary disputes developed with the United States,” says History.com. On February 22, 1819, “after years of negotiations, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams achieved a diplomatic coup with the signing of the Florida Purchase Treaty, which officially put Florida into U.S. hands at no cost beyond the U.S. assumption of some $5 millions of claims by U.S. citizens against Spain.”
For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize suggests A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America by Tony Horwitz.
In 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment; a year later it was ratified, and women got the right to vote. Then, a Baltimore attorney, Oscar Leser, defied the law in 1922. He claimed that Maryland’s Constitution only endorsed suffrage for men. He sued to have two women stricken from the election lists. On February 27 of that year, the case went to the Supreme Court; it upheld the Amendment.
As Politico magazine put it, “In a 1,036-word opinion written by Justice Louis Brandeis, the court spurned Leser’s claims. Brandeis noted that the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed voting rights to African-Americans, had similarly expanded the electorate by that time for over 50 years — despite its having been rejected by six states, including Maryland.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Votes for Women!: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot by Winifred Conkling.
History Matters is a biweekly feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize.