This Day in History
1854 — Anthony Burns arrested. An escaped slave from Virginia, Burns had made his way to Boston before being apprehended. His arrest caused an uproar in the city. A mob tried to batter down the door of the jail to free him, and lawyers defended him in court. All to no avail, he was ordered back to Virginia. 50,000 people lined the streets in protest as police, militia and federal troops escorted him to the ship taking him back. One of his lawyers, Richard Henry Dana, described it as a “vile procession.”
Money was raised and freedom was eventually purchased for Burns. He became a Baptist minister in Canada but unfortunately died at age 28, slavery having deprived him of his health.
Boston of that era was an abolitionist, open-minded city, unlike the Boston of the 1970s when busing was so vehemently protested.
Of secondary interest, lawyer Richard Henry Dana was the same man who wrote the classic, “Two Years Before the Mast.”
1921 — Bulhoek Massacre. This dispute, involving land and religion, took place in South Africa. Preacher Enoch Mgijima broke away from the Methodist church to form what was essentially a religious sect. They called themselves “Israelites.” At one point he convinced his followers to quit working because the end of the world was nigh. (Religious sect leaders tend to do that.) Then some of his Israelites began squatting on land not belonging to them, drawing the ire of the authorities. Armed troops assembled to push the Israelites, who wielded only pitchforks and scythes, off the land. In the ensuing battle 163 Israelites were killed and many more wounded.
History has a conflicted view of this event. Were they nothing more than a crazed religious cult prophesizing their own doom, (Jonestown), or heroic protestors challenging the racist Native Land Act of 1913 which enabled whites to take ownership of valuable land?
Hard to say, probably a little of both.
1957 — Anti-American riots in Taiwan. An American army sergeant, accused of killing a Taiwanese man, was acquitted. An angry mob stormed the U.S. Embassy, beat some of the staff, and nearly destroyed the building. The issue was the sergeant had been tried by a U.S. military tribunal rather than in a Republic of China court. It smacked of the foreign imperialism that had offended Chinese going back to the days of the Boxer Rebellion and before.
The case itself is murky. Sergeant Reynolds admitted shooting the man who he caught window-peeking into his house while his wife was taking a shower. When confronted by Reynolds the man attacked him and Reynolds pleaded self-defense. The Chinese authorities did not cooperate with the Americans in the investigation. They refused to give up any information about the man and there was speculation he was a Taiwanese agent assigned to spy on Americans. Because Taiwan relied on U.S. aid official tensions soon eased.
This could be viewed as big-picture diplomatic success, only one pawn sacrificed and some property damage.
1743 — Jean-Paul Marat. Physician and radical journalist and politician during the French Revolution. He went from being a doctor to the royal court to one of its more severe critics. He eventually became a very rabid voice of the revolution. He advocated showing no mercy to those of royal status. In July 1790 he wrote: “Five or six hundred heads cut off would have assured your repose, freedom, and happiness. A false humanity has held your arms and suspended your blows; because of this millions of your brothers will lose their lives.” Marat was stabbed to death by a political opponent while taking a bath in 1793.
To the barricades! (I’ve always wanted to write that.}
1819 — Queen Victoria. After whom the Victorian Age was named. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Victoria “It was a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military change within the United Kingdom, and was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire.” It was also during this time that the monarchy went from a political to more of a ceremonial role. Until Queen Elizabeth came along she was the longest ruling monarch in British history.
They’re just lucky that Jean-Paul Marat was French.
1870 — Jan Christiaan Smuts. South African politician and general. He served in the Boer War against the British and both the 1st and 2nd World Wars against the Germans. He is the only person to have signed the peace treaties ending both the wars. He argued in the 1930s, to no avail, that the sanctions of the Treaty of Versailles were too severe and would lead to another war. (You don’t say.)
He was friends with Winston Churchill, and although Gandhi was an adversary, Smuts admired and respected him. Smuts was an early advocate of segregation although his views did evolve over time. Not to the point that he thought the black race was equal, but he did argue against apartheid and that cost him his political power. Smuts died in 1948.
It could be said of him that at least he wasn’t as unenlightened as most white South African politicians.