June 17, 1954: “Operation Wetback” is launched

Operation-Wetback_-300x206Sixty years ago, when Dwight Eisenhower moved into the White House, America’s southern frontier was as porous as a colander. Three million illegal migrants had walked or waded across the border looking for jobs in California, Arizona, or Texas, and more were coming in from Mexico every day.

Farmers and ranchers along the border had become so dependent on the low-cost labor that it was hurting domestic workers – cotton pickers in the Rio Grande Valley now earned about half the wages paid elsewhere in the state.

Ike was concerned not only by the illegal border-crossings, but also by corruption. Apparently, some ranchers had friends among immigration officials. Agents complained that when they searched farms and ranches, a phone call to officials in El Paso would be made, and a politician would intervene.

In 1954, Ike appointed retired Gen. Joseph “Jumpin’ Joe” Swing, a West Point classmate and veteran of the 101st Airborne, as the new INS commissioner. Senators Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas and Pat McCarran of Nevada were dead set against strong border enforcement, but General Swing’s close connections to the president shielded the Border Patrol from meddling by powerful interests, and one of Swing’s first acts was to transfer certain entrenched immigration officials away from the border to regions where their political connections would have no effect.

Operation-Wetback-300x236Then on June 17, 1954, 750 agents swept northward through California and Arizona agricultural areas as “Operation Wetback” launched. By the end of July, over 50,000 illegal farmworkers had been caught in the dragnet. By mid-July, the raids extended into Utah, Nevada, Idaho, and Texas. By September, 80,000 had been taken into custody in Texas alone.

Those apprehended in the roundup were not simply released at the border. Buses and trains transported them deep within Mexico before being set free. Tens of thousands more were put aboard two ships, the Emancipation and the Mercurio, for a harsh sea voyage from Port Isabel, Texas, to Vera Cruz, Mexico, more than 500 miles south.

The INS extended the crackdown to the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. Within a year a million illegal immigrants had been deported, and another million fled back to Mexico on their own.

Source: Christian Science Monitor, John Dillin, July 6, 2006

July 16, 1845: The First New York Yacht Club Regatta

NY Yacht ClubSix schooners and three sloops assembled in the upper bay of New York harbor, and a holiday atmosphere overtook the city as the offices and counting houses let out early. The men of large business, brokers, and jobbers requisitioned every craft that could float, from skiffs to large excursion steamers, and thousands of spectators, all New York who could get there, went out in boats or picnicked along the shore to view the spectacle. It was a novel sporting event, promising cutthroat competition and a parade of sails, and wagers up to $500 were routinely traded as the yachts neared the line.

William Edgar’s schooner Cygnet was about forty-five tons, sixty feet long perhaps; while James Roger’s little sloop Ada was about a third that size. The other schooner contenders included C R Miller’s Sybil (42 tons), Vice Commodore Hamilton Wilkes’s Spray (37 tons), John C Jay’s La Coquille (27 tons), J Waterbury’s Minna (30 tons), and Commodore John C Stevens’s Gimcrack (25 tons), while the sloops included H Robinson’s Newburgh (33 tons) and G B Rollins’s Lancet (20 tons).

The boats were handicapped based on their weight. Calculating their tonnage by custom house measurement, 45 seconds per ton was allowed at the start. The schooner yachts were built wide with perpendicular or slightly convex stems, square sterns, short standing bowsprits, and no fore topmasts. Balloon canvas of all sorts was unknown and no one ever had to lay out to muzzle the jib topsail because there was not any. The spinnaker did not yet exist.

The course ran east from a stake-boat off Robbins Reef near the New Jersey shore, to a stake-boat off Bay Ridge, Long Island, then back to a stake-boat off Stapleton, Staten Island then out and around the Southwest Spit buoy, and returned back over the same course.

In a brisk breeze, with close competition on both the upwind tacks and the broad reaches, the biggest boat,  Cygnet,  won in 5 hours 23 minutes and 15 seconds, with Sybil coming in second, two minutes behind, and Gimcrack another five minutes behind the Sybil.

The prize was as good a cup as could be purchased with the entrance money, which was twenty-five dollars for each yacht. Commodore J C Stevens, “a mighty good fellow and a most hospitable host,” was delighted by the success of the regatta, even though he came in third, and the annual gathering of racing yachts continues to this day.

July 15, 1806: Zebulon Pike Departs for the West

PikesPeakUnited States Army Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, Jr. headed west out from Fort Bellefontaine, Missouri on July 15, 1806 with a detachment of 20 soldiers and 50 Osage hostages.

Thomas Jefferson had commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition two years previously to explore the northern regions of the Louisiana Purchase, and now he wanted a second military party to explore the more southern Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains.

The expedition first headed up the Missouri to the Osage River, where Pike returned the hostages to their home villages and parleyed with the natives. Striking northwest, the group made for the Pawnee territory on the Republican River. On September 29, Pike met with the Pawnee tribal council and announced the protectorship of the United States over the territory, instructing the Pawnee to remove a Spanish flag from their village and to fly the Stars and Stripes instead.

The expeditionary force turned south and struck out across the prairie for the Arkansas River. After reaching it on October 14, the party split in two. One group, led by Lieutenant James Wilkinson, traveled downstream along the length of the Arkansas to its mouth and back up the Mississippi, safely returning to St. Louis.

Pike led the other, larger group to the west, toward the headwaters of the Arkansas. The plains were windswept and desolate and seemingly endless, but after a month, on November 15, Pike spied a distant snowcapped mountain which he called “Grand Peak”. Pike and his men tried to climb the peak, which now bears his name, hoping to survey the surrounding area, but the party was not equipped to climb the 14,000-foot summit with winter closing in.

Pike pressed on up the Arkansas, and on December 7 the party reached Royal Gorge canyon at the southern end of the front range of the Rocky Mountains. Heading north, the party found the South Fork of the Platte River and, following it upstream, came to what they thought were the headwaters of the Red. Turning back downstream, they returned to the point at which they had left the Arkansas and realized that they had just executed a large loop, wasting weeks of precious travel time.

Hungry, cold, and exhausted, the party headed south. Several men dropped behind from fatigue, but Pike pressed on. By January 30, he and ten men camped at the Rio Grande in southern Colorado. They built a fort and attempted to collect their comrades who were strewn behind across miles of wilderness.

On February 26, Spanish soldiers from nearby Santa Fe discovered the fort and arrested Pike and his men as spies. The Spanish marched them south to Chihuahua. The Mexican Governor complained of the foray, but treated Pike as a gentleman and released him and his officers, although he did hold several of the enlisted soldiers in jail for years. After filing a formal protest with the United States Government, the Spanish military escorted Pike north through Texas.

On July 1, 1807, Zebulon Pike crossed over to Natchitoches on the Louisiana border, and his western odyssey came to an end.

July 14, 1911: Harry Atwood Visits the White House in his Aeroplane

south-lawn-1911President William Howard Taft finished his lunch a little after two, and accompanied by his secretary and his military aide, he strolled onto the South Portico of the White House. It was overcast and sprinkling a bit and the birds were chirping in the trees, and he could see down the south lawn past the fountain and the ellipse, to where crowds had gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue and beyond, towards the Washington Monument.

A faint buzzing could be heard just above the noise of the crowd, and then his aide pointed south. The buzz grew louder into a steady growl, and then with the easy grace of some great creature of the skies, a flying machine appeared, sailing over the trees.
Harry Atwood had only been flying for three months, but he had graduated from MIT and had trained with the Wright Brothers and he had just flown in from Boston in his new aeroplane, the Moth, and he had come to greet the President.

As The Moth approached the row of tall trees at the south end of the lawn, Harry cut the motor – the brisk breeze held him back a bit – he had to gun it again to clear the top branches – then he shut off the power and glided in over the big fountain, and coasted to a halt twenty-five feet from the President.

The spectators crowded about the aeroplane and Atwood’s mother rushed in to embrace her son, and then she beamed with pride as he climbed out of his craft and was escorted to meet the President of the United States and the officers of the Aero Club.

President Taft had been watching intently, his eyes shaded by his hands, and with a bright smile he welcomed the young aviator and enthusiastically shook his hand. In a short speech, he proclaimed “a new chapter in the thrills of the flying art” and awarded Harry a gold medal in honor of his feat.

Atwood thanked the President and then directly returned to The Moth. Firing up the motor, he turned the craft around and headed briskly back down the lawn towards the ellipse. For a few moments it looked as if the craft would not be able to rise from the ground and would strike the stone coping around the fountain. But just as he neared the fountain his machine began to lift, and he cleared the fountain by a good twenty feet. The Moth soared quickly above the tree tops, and with the crowd applauding heartily, sailed just over the top of the Washington Monument, and then on, out of sight, into the overcast sky.

July 11, 1804: Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton Duel in Weehawken

“Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.”          – Aaron Burr

“I never expect to see a perfect work from an imperfect man.”
  – Alexander Hamilton

burr-1“The rule of my life is to make business a pleasure, and pleasure my business.”       – Aaron Burr

“As to Burr these things are admitted, and indeed cannot be denied, that he is a man of extreme and irregular ambition; that he is selfish to a degree which excludes all social affections, and that he is decidedly profligate.”                                   – Alexander Hamilton

“…when a lady does me the honor to name me the father of her child, I trust I shall always be too gallant to show myself ungrateful for the favor!”                                                       – Aaron Burr

“Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”   – Alexander Hamilton

“Law is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained.” hamilton
– Aaron Burr

“A well-adjusted person is one who makes the same mistake twice without getting nervous.”                      – Alexander Hamilton

“In New York I am to be disenfranchised, and in New Jersey hanged. You will not…conclude that I have become disposed to submit tamely to the machinations of a banditti.”         – Aaron Burr

“The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and, however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true to fact. The people are turbulent and changing, they seldom judge or determine right. .”                    – Alexander Hamilton

“I learned in the Revolution, in the society of gentlemen, and I have since observed for myself, that a man who is guilty of intentional bad manners, is capable of crime.”                  – Aaron Burr

“Man is a reasoning, rather than reasonable, animal.”
Alexander Hamilton

“Every man likes his own opinion best.”       – Aaron Burr

“I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am a sinner. I look to Him for mercy; pray for me.”                          – Alexander Hamilton

(When asked if he expected to find salvation): “On that subject I am coy.”                         – Aaron Burr


July 10, 1821: Spain Transfers Florida to the United States

For more than two hundred years the Spanish flag had waved over East and West Florida. St. Augustine, the first lasting settlement in what is now the United States, was established. Later Pensacola on the western coast was founded, and the fort of St. Marks was built. Except in the neighborhood of the few towns, the Indians were the real owners and rulers of the land. They roamed at will through the great forests, hunting and fishing, clearing land and raising their crops, undisturbed by the Spaniards.

But there was still trouble between the Indians and their American neighbors, and Spain could not or would not end these troubles; it was believed that for the sake of peace and safety the United States must acquire possession of Florida.

General Andrew Jackson’s rapid marches and the punishment he dealt the Indians and their allies for injuries to American settlements proved to Spain that she could not rule her territory or keep the Indians under control without a large army and heavy expense.

Finally, after much discussion, a treaty was signed on Feb. 22, 1819, by which Spain agreed to transfer Florida to the United States for the sum of five million dollars, and the payment of certain claims. General Jackson was appointed military governor of the two Floridas until a regular government should be formed.



The exchange of flags took place on July 10, 1821, at St. Augustine. At 4 P.M. the transfer of authority took place at the Government House, and the city keys were delivered. The Spanish flag was withdrawn under a salute from the fort, and the Spanish guard marched out. When they approached the American troops they exchanged salutes with them. Then the Americans marched into the fortress and fired a salute to their flag.

The Indians were by no means pleased with the exchange of government, and said that it was not lawful, because the land was a gift from the Great Spirit to the red men and not to the Spaniards. So, with heavy hearts, the principal chiefs went to Pensacola to have a “talk” with the new governor.

General Jackson spoke kindly to them. He said he was glad to meet them as a friend, for the hatchet was buried and the Great Father did not wish to see it raised again. He told them that the Creek Indians, who did not belong to Florida, must return to their own nation and chiefs; runaway slaves must return to their owners; and the Indians who belonged in Florida must be gathered together in one part of the Territory, where the President would give them the same rights as the white men.

To all of this one of the chiefs replied: “White people live in towns where many thousands work together on small grounds; but the Seminole is a wild and scattered people. The Seminole swims the streams and leaps over the logs of the forest in pursuit of game, and is like the whooping crane that makes its nest at night far from the spot where it dashed the dew from the grass and flowers in the morning. For a hundred summers the Seminole warrior has rested under the shade of his live oaks, and the suns of a hundred winters have risen upon his ardent pursuit of the buck and bear, with none to question or dispute his claims.”

Although the chiefs were not satisfied, they agreed to “carry the talk,” to their people, and gather them together for a council. It was plain that American government was to be very different from any they had known, and they remembered with longing the time when Spanish governors had left them to live as they would.

General Jackson’s ambition as governor of Florida seems to have been soon satisfied. His health was poor, having suffered from the hardships of his campaigns, and he longed for the quiet and rest of his Tennessee home. In October, leaving Colonel George Walton as acting governor in his absence, he left Pensacola, to begin his slow journey homeward. He had certainly filled the people of Florida with a dread of his severity; but it is pleasant to know also of the devotion of his soldiers and staff officers to him.

They had reason to know that the stern soldier had a kind heart. He was indeed a terrible enemy, but the best of friends; quick tempered and hasty, but brave and patriotic, and as honest as he was brave. Alone in the world at the age of fourteen, poor and friendless, he had fought his way through life, step by step, always brave, always honest. He was now a great soldier and had received honors. But greater honors still were in store for him; for ten years later he became President of the United States. His name is written more than once on the map of Florida, for Jackson County, the city of Jacksonville, and Lake Jackson are named for him.

Source: A History of Florida, by Caroline Mays Brevard, American Book Company, 1904.

July 9, 1868: 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified

freeSECTION 1.   All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

SECTION 2.   Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.

SECTION 3.   No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

SECTION 4.   The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

SECTION 5.   The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

July 8, 1816: Eighteen-Hundred-and-Froze-to-Death in New England

Summer began with its usual promise. By the fifth of June the thermometer had risen to the high eighties, and the beans and corn were sprouting up out of the ground. In the afternoon, however, large clouds started forming to the west, and thunder started rolling, and lightning lit up the darkening skies. The wind rushed in, and the temperatures dropped like a rock as a Canadian cold front invaded New England.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By the morning of June sixth, the temperatures were in the forties, and snow had started to fall. Flurries fell in Salem and Boston – in Danville Vermont the snow drifted a foot and a half deep. The snow and the cold and the wind lingered for five days, until it finally started warming up again.

By the middle of June temperatures were getting back to normal, and the farmers were able to plant a second crop of corn and beans. By the twenty-third, a heat wave had hit and the mercury in the towns around Boston hit ninety-nine degrees.

July was very dry and drought began to affect the harvests. On July eighth, the weather turned again and New Englanders shivered through one of the coldest nights of the summer as a ground frost covered the Upper Connecticut Valley.

The first half of August was normal, but still dry. Another cold front came through on the 20th and brought on more frosty nights and reports of snow in the mountains. The dry, cool conditions of late August persisted through September which ended with a series of crop killing frosts.
Many farmers were ruined in “The Year without a Summer” which meteorologists blame on the immense eruption of the Tamboro volcano east of Java in April 1815. The New Englanders pulled up roots and headed west to settle the Genesee country of western New York, and on into Ohio and the Midwest, where they hoped to find a more hospitable climate, richer soil, and a better life.

July 7, 1911: The Fur Seal Treaty of 1911 is signed

In 1872 Henry Wood Elliott, a young artist-naturalist, travelled to Alaska’s Pribilof Islands on behalf of the Treasury Department to study the fur seals and to oversee the fur seal harvest. Since the United States government received significant royalties from the trade in seal skins, Elliot’s objective was to determine the most profitable manner of managing the Pribilof Island seal herds to maintain a sustainable harvest.


Elliott estimated four million seals lived around the islands, and he concluded from his studies that 100,000 bachelor males per year could be harvested without undermining sustainability. The United States had leased harvesting rights to the Alaska Commercial Company and declared the open waters of the eastern Bering Sea off-limits to sealers from any nation. Rather than protecting the seals, these actions led to offshore, open water sealing by other nations.

The most valuable commercial pelts came from three-year-old bachelor seals. However, in the rush for profit, the harvests started taking females and immature males as well. Shooting females was particularly destructive as three seals were effectively killed–the female, a nursing pup ashore in the rookeries, and a seal embryo.

Elliott returned several times to the Pribilofs and became outraged at the government officials and commercial interests who were allowing the seal herds to be decimated. As a result, he became an untiring advocate of the fur seal. In 1905 he partnered with Secretary of State John Hay to draft a treaty for managing the seal herds. Unfortunately, Hay died and it was not until July 1911 when the four nations most active in sealing – Russia, Japan, Great Britain, and the U.S. – were sufficiently shocked and revolted by the slaughter to sign a treaty outlawing open water sealing and accept on-shore management of the herds.

The Fur Seal Treaty of 1911 was the first international treaty to address the issue of wildlife conservation and represented “a major victory for the conservation of natural resources, a signal triumph of diplomacy…, and a landmark in the history of international cooperation.”



July 4th, 1855: Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is Published

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.Whitman
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ laps.
This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.
I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

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