May 15, 1817: Founding of the Friends Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason

For a shilling, early 18th-century Philadelphians could visit Pennsylvania Hospital on a Sunday afternoon and gawk at the mad men and women, chained and raving in the dank hospital basement.

It was good entertainment, but the public display of lunatics offended the moral senses of the Quakers who preached Friendsthat God dwells within every man. The Quakers sincerely believed that “in every man there is a ‘divine principle’ and nothing, be it slavery, poverty, or insanity, should prevent that man from obeying that principle.” Insanity was merely another obstacle to be removed from the road to inward enlightenment and, like slavery and poverty, curable.

It was this belief that led the Philadelphia Quakers in 1813 to found the first private psychiatric hospital in the United States, the Friends Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason. There the Quakers practiced a method of care that came to be known as the ”moral treatment” of the insane. In so doing, they laid the foundation for modern psychiatric medicine in the United States.

The Quakers prescribed that mental patients be released from their chains and given private rooms, each with a window. Compassion and conversation, forerunners of modern psychoanalysis, were the cornerstones of treatment. Then, as now, patients were allowed to stroll about the wooded grounds and work in the hospital’s gardens.

From the earliest days, Friends Hospital utilized occupation as a curative for patients: men worked on the farm that helped sustain the hospital community, while women worked in kitchen gardens, weaving, or otherwise contributing to the community. Thus, the concept of occupational therapy was born. Horticultural therapy also originated at Friends Hospital which had patient greenhouses in the mid-1800s. In an age before psychiatric medication, Friends physicians embraced other cutting-edge treatments, such as hydrotherapy, in order to ease patients’ suffering.

Patients are still brought up the circular driveway and into the hospital through the massive double doors of the old building, much as they were 175 years ago.

”No matter how disturbed or violent a patient is, we don’t bring them in by a back way. They come in the front door and we tell them that they will leave by the front door. That is our way of treating everyone equally and with dignity.”

May 14th, 1932: “We Want Beer” Parade

After a long day of trying to find work in the middle of the Great Depression, a man couldn’t even go to the local pub and enjoy a pint to take the edge off and forget the miserable world he currently lived in. Americans hadn’t enjoyed a legitimate drink since Prohibition had started 12 years earlier.

It wasn’t just a matter of inconvenience. Gangsters controlled the illegal sale of alcohol and between 350 and 400 Beermurders per year could be traced to the bootlegging business.

It was hard on government as well – after the income from taxes on alcohol products dried up New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker was forced to drastically cut his budget and shrink both police and fire departments.

Unemployment soared and few could deny that if beer sales were legalized the violence would end, thousands of jobs would be created and millions in desperately needed tax revenue would come rolling in.

Tired of being hamstrung by the “dry” laws and not able to fight the mob on the street and tired of tasting paint thinner in his gin and tonic, Mayor Walker rounded up a posse of like-minded souls and took to the New York City streets.

What started as a small group of protesters quickly swelled into a mass of 100,000 parched voices all under the banner of “WE WANT BEER”.

“Beer for Prosperity” became the battle cry. Soon the voices of the unemployed drowned out the buzz-and-revenue killing voices of the “drys” and with the  election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had practically built his platform on ending prohibition, the Dry movement found itself over a barrel.

The 21st Amendment to the Constitution soon answered the marchers cry:

“Who wants beer?”

“We Do!”

May 13, 1862: Robert Smalls Commandeers the C.S.S. Planter to Freedom

Despite being born a slave in the low country of South Carolina, Robert Smalls never learned that there were certain things he just couldn’t do because of his color.

Maybe it was because his owner, John McKee, might also have been his father. The McKee family certainly favored robertsmallsRobert Smalls over the other slave children, so much so that his mother worried he would reach manhood without fully grasping the “peculiarities” of the institution into which he was born. To educate him, she even arranged for him to be sent to the fields to work and to see other slaves at “the whipping post.”

This education only led Robert to further defiance and more than once he found himself in the Beaufort jail. Fearing for her son’s future, his mother asked her master to send Smalls to Charleston to be rented out to work. By the time Smalls turned 19, he was earning one dollar a week (his owner took the rest) and he was receiving another education on the waters of Charleston harbor.

By the second year of the Civil War the Union Navy had set up a blockade and the Confederates were dug in defending Charleston and its coastal waters. The C.S.S. Planter was a first-class coastwise steamer which was used to supply the various blockaded island points. It was heavily armed with a 32-pound pivot gun, a 24-pound howitzer and 200 rounds of ammunition, and Robert Smalls was the “wheelman” on board.

On the afternoon of May 12, the Planter returned to the Charleston docks to resupply. It was due to go out again the next morning, but that evening the white officers on board decided to take a break for the night — either for a party or to visit family — leaving the crew’s eight trusted slave members behind.

At 2:00 a.m. on May 13, Robert Smalls donned the captain’s wide-brimmed straw hat to help to hide his brown face and ordered the Planter’s crew to fire up the boiler and hoist the South Carolina and Confederate flags. Easing out of the dock, in full view of the Confederate headquarters, they paused at the West Atlantic Wharf and picked up Smalls’ wife and children, four other women, three men and another child.

At 3:25 a.m., the Planter picked up steam. From the pilot house, Smalls sounded the ship’s whistle while passing Fort Johnson and at 4:15 a.m. passed Fort Sumter, “as cooly as if General Ripley was on board.” Smalls not only knew all the correct signals to flash; he even folded his arms just so, so that in the shadows he passed convincingly for the Planter’s captain.

“She was supposed to be the guard boat and allowed to pass without interruption,” Confederate Aide-de-Camp F.G. Ravenel explained defensively in a letter to his commander. It was only when the Planter passed out of Fort Sumter’s gun range that the alarm was sounded — the Planter was heading for the Union blockade!

At sunrise, Smalls ordered his crew to strike the Palmetto and Rebel flags and hoist a white bed sheet.  Not seeing the “white” flag, Lt. J. Frederick Nickels of the U.S.S. Onward ordered his sailors to open her ports and prepare to fire. Just as the No. 3 port gun was being elevated, someone cried out, “I see something that looks like a white flag!”

True enough there was something flying on the steamer that might once have been white. The Planter neared the blockade, and the Union sailors scanned its deck and assessed its threat.

When it became apparent that the Union ship would not fire, a rush of black men, women and children spilled out onto her deck – dancing, singing, whistling, jumping…

As the C.S.S. Planter steered under the stern of the U.S.S. Onward, the man piloting the boat stepped forward, took off his hat, and shouted, “Good morning, sir! I’ve brought you some of the old United States guns, sir!”

That man was Robert Smalls, and he and his family and the entire slave crew of the Planter were now free.

Source: Henry Louis Gates “The African Americans”

May 12, 1986: Ronald Reagan bestows the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Seven Great Americans

In a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Reagan presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ambassador Walter Annenberg, Coach Earl Blaik, Senator Barry Goldwater, Actress Helen Hayes, General Matthew B. Ridgway, Journalist Vermont Royster, and Dr. Albert Sabin. These were his remarks that day:

“Well, thank you all for being here. Nancy and I want to welcome you all to the White House for this happy occasion. Reagan_speaking_in_Minneapolis_1982On days like this and at lunches like this, I find myself looking up and thinking what a wonderful job I have. We’re here today to present the Medal of Freedom to seven Americans. This medal is the highest civilian honor our nation can bestow. And I’ve always thought it highly significant that we call it not the Medal of Talent or the Medal of Valor or the Medal of Courage or Genius but the Medal of Freedom. I think that says a lot about our values and what we honor and what we love.

“Freedom is important to all of us. As someone who spent many years making speeches, I have quoted many definitions of freedom—some very moving and eloquent. But I’ve always liked George Orwell’s blunt and unadorned statement. He said, “Freedom is the right to say no.” There’s something kind of happily rebellious about that definitions and I thought of it this morning because I decided this year’s recipients of the Medal of Freedom are distinguished by this. You’re a group of happy rebels. In your careers and in the way you have lived your lives, you’ve all said no—a most emphatic no—to mediocrity, to averageness, to timidity. You’ve said no to the rules of the game and the regulations of the day. You’ve said no to the conventional wisdom, no to the merely adequate, no to the limits and limitations on yourselves and others.

“But it’s probably true that there is little point to freedom unless it’s accompanied by a big yes! And each of you has uttered a resounding Whitmanesque yes to many things—to excellence and risk and reach, to courage and the untried and the supposedly impossible. You’ve rebelled against the artificial and embraced the authentic. You’ve achieved a great deal. And your creativity itself has been life-affirming, for creation is a profoundly faithful act, an act that says, “I trust in the future, and I trust in life itself.”

“You’re all originals. You’ve all made America better—a better place—and you’ve made it seem a better place in the eyes of the people of the world. And this today is just our way of saying thanks…

“There’s nothing to add to achievements such as these, and no praise that can add any more luster to these great names. May I say to you simply, to all of you, thank you just for being, for doing what you’ve done and what you do. And thank you all, and God bless you.”

May 11, 1910: Glacier National Park is Created

For years, George Bird Grinnell, the editor of Field and Stream, visited the remote mountains of Montana and repeatedly urged that they be set aside as a permanent reservation, but for years this lofty goal seemed only a dream:

“How often, in dreams of the night or day, have I revisited these scenes during the years that have passed since last I Glacierleft these happy shores. How often, in fancy, have I seated myself on some rock on the point of old Singleshot and gazed over the beautiful scene. The two great lakes, the rocky walls of the sky-reached mountains which inclose them, the gray slide rock at my feet, the brown expanse of level prairie at the Inlet, the dark pine-clad foothills and the yellow grass of the little parks, the matchless blue of the unclouded sky were all present down the gorge at my feet I would seem to hear the faint roll of the ruffed grouse, as he summoned – in vain at this season – his harem to his side, and then, at first indistinct, but each movement more plainly heard and calling all my senses into alertness, would come the rattle of the hale which told me that a sheep was picking its way with dainty step over the slide rock, or was bounding with nervous leaps from rock to rock up or down the mountainside. But always before the crucial moment came when the noble game should present itself to my eyes, the vision faded and I found that the St. Mary’s Lakes were far away.”

May 8, 1877: First Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

In 1876 a group of gentleman often met in the bar at the Westminster Hotel in New York City where they shared stories, as men do, about hunting and shooting. A great many of the stories they told highlighted the exploits of their hunting dogs. It occurred to some in this group that they should form a club to showcase their special dogs. They dwestminsterid, and the Westminster Kennel Club soon convened its first meeting in their favorite watering hole.

This led to their first annual dog show held May 8, 1877. Big plans were made and the first Westminster Kennel Club show kicked off at Gilmore’s Garden (the predecessor to Madison Square Garden) in New York City and featured 1,201 sporting dogs, primarily Setters and Pointers. Among the entries listed in the first show were two Staghounds once owned by General George Custer, and two Deerhounds bred by Queen Victoria of England.

The show was “benched” which meant the dogs stayed at the show all day so that the public could see them up close and talk to their owners. Prizes included items such as pearl-handled pistols, much desired by the hunters and terrier-men who worked these dogs in the field.

The show was such a hit that it was extended to four days to accommodate the overwhelming public interest. The gate for the first day of the show was estimated as high as 8,000. On the second day, 20,000 spectators attended, a number matched on the third day and providing the impetus to add a fourth day.

The proceeds from that fourth day were donated to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to open a home for stray and disabled dogs.

May 7, 1992: After 202 years, the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution is finally ratified

On June 8, 1789, James Madison of Virginia proposed an amendment to the Constitution which read: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

It was one of a series of proposed amendments to the new constitution which the House debated and passed on ConstitutionAugust 24, 1789. The proposed amendment went next to the Senate, where on September 9, 1789, it was included in a package of approved articles of amendment.

On September 21, 1789, a conference committee resolved differences between the House and Senate proposals and on September 25, 1789 the proposed amendments were sent to the states for their consideration. Most of these proposed amendments seemed straightforward enough, and ten of them were quickly ratified are now well-known as the Bill of Rights.

For whatever reason, the “Congressional Pay” amendment enjoyed only lukewarm support among those members of the citizenry who had been called to a life of “public service”.  By June 1792, only seven States (Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Vermont, Virginia, and Kentucky) ratified the “Congressional Pay” amendment.

After that, nothing happened…

…Until 1873, that is, when on the day before the second inauguration of President Ulysses S. Grant, Congressmen voted themselves a 50% pay increase, retroactive to the beginning of their just-ending term. In protest against the “Salary Grab Act”, Ohio ratified the long dormant “Congressional Pay” amendment.

Nothing happened again for the next 100 years…

…until Congress again voted itself in 1978.

Indignant at the new salary grab, Wyoming became the ninth state to ratify the amendment.

Then it seemed the proposed “Pay” amendment was doomed to be forgotten again.

…until a student at the University of Texas, Gregory Watson, wrote a paper in 1982 on reviving the amendment process. His instructor deemed his idea ‘unrealistic’, and gave his paper a “C”, but Watson was undeterred and started a letter-writing campaign to state legislatures.

His campaign started to find receptive ears in certain state legislatures. The Maine legislature ratified as a result of Watson’s campaign in April 1983, followed by Colorado in 1984.

Five more states followed in 1985, three in 1986, four in 1987…

Every year a handful of state legislatures followed suit, until with the ratification by Michigan on May 7, 1992 the required three-quarter majority had been met – and the “Congressional Pay” amendment was finally certified as law.

May 6, 1882: Chester A. Arthur signs the Chinese Exclusion Act

WHEREAS, in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof:

Therefore, be it enacted, That from and after the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act, and until Chinesethe expiration of ten years next after the passage of this act, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States be suspended; and during such suspension it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come, or, having so come after the expiration of said ninety days, to remain within the United States.

That the master of any vessel who shall knowingly bring within the United States on such vessel, and land or permit to be landed, any Chinese laborer, from any foreign port or place, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars for each and every such Chinese laborer so brought, and may be also imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year…

That no Chinese person shall be permitted to enter the United States by land without producing to the proper office of customs the certificate in this act required of Chinese persons seeking to land from a vessel. Any Chinese person found unlawfully within the United States shall be caused to be removed therefrom to the country from whence he came…

That hereafter no State court or court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship; and all laws in conflict with this act are hereby repealed.

May 5, 1862: Cinco de Mayo; the Battle of Puebla drives the French from Mexico

President Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward were doing their best to appear ‘neutral’ on the Mexican situation. They did not want to take on Napoleon III and the Confederates at the same time. While Napoleon III had grand ambitions in the New World, he had hesitated to take on the United States directly – but the news of the Civil War had changed everything – it meant that the Americans would be occupied with domestic issues for some time.The United States had defeated Mexico in 1848, and one consequence of the Mexican-American War was that it cincodrained the Mexican treasury and led to financial disaster. Mexican President Benito Juarez suspended payments on Mexico’s foreign debt because the country was essentially bankrupt.

Upon hearing that the Spaniards and the British had sailed off to grab the customs house in Veracruz and forcibly collect their share of the debt, Napoleon III decided he would not only send a French force to join the fray, but would also start looking for a puppet ruler fot Mexico (someone he found in Emperor Maximilian). He could then use Mexico as a base to help the Confederates win their war against the United States and give France a valuable toe-hold in the cotton-rich South. And if Napoleon was successful in conquering Mexico… The possibility of marching north to aid the Confederates and divide the United States into two less powerful countries was becoming very real.

Early on May 5, 1862, General Charles de Lorencez led 6,000 French troops toward the city of Puebla, just 100 miles from Mexico City. General Ignacio Zaragoza, a Texas-born Mexican was waiting for the French with a force of 4,000 troops, many of them farm workers armed with antiquated rifles and machetes. The battle would take place in a muddy, uneven field.

The French general ordered his troops to attack through the middle of the Mexicans’ defenses, their strongest position. The French cavalry went through ditches, over adobe ruins and toward the slope of Guadalupe Hill, but the cavalry, exhausted by the difficult terrain, failed to achieve its goal. The Mexican army stood its ground.

General Zaragoza, who had no experience in military tactics but was a veteran in guerrilla warfare, ordered his troops to pursue the French who fled to Orizaba. There, Zaragoza attacked the French again, and drove them back to the coast.

The Battle of Pueblo, fought on the Cinquo de Mayo, is celebrated as a local holiday in Mexico, but fittingly (recognizing its geopolitical significance), is much more widely celebrated throughout the United States.




May 4, 1776, Rhode Island renounces allegiance to King George III

WHEREAS in all states, existing by compact, protection and allegiance are reciprocal, the latter being only due in consequence of the former: And whereas George the Third, King of Great Britain, forgetting his dignity, regardless of RIthe compact most solemnly entered into, ratified and confirmed, to the inhabitants of this Colony, by his illustrious ancestors, and till of late fully recognized by him—and entirely departing from the duties and character of a good King, instead of protecting, is endeavoring to destroy the good people of this Colony, and of all the United Colonies, by sending fleets and armies to America, to confiscate our property, and spread fire, sword and desolation, throughout our country, in order to compel us to submit to the most debasing and detestable tyranny, whereby we are obliged by necessity, and it becomes our highest duty, to use every means, with which God and nature have furnished us, in support of our invaluable rights and privileges; to oppose that power which is exerted only for our destruction.

BE it therefore enacted by this General Assembly, and by the authority thereof it is enacted, that an Act entitled, “An Act for the more effectual securing to His Majesty the Allegiance of his Subjects in this his Colony and Dominion of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” be, and the same is hereby, repealed.
AND be it further enacted by this General Assembly, and by the authority thereof it is enacted, that in all commissions for offices, civil and military, and in all writs and processes in law, whether original, judicial or executory, civil or criminal, wherever the name and the authority of the said King is made use of, the same shall be omitted, and in the room thereof the name and authority of the Governor and Company of this Colony shall be substituted, in the following words, to wit: “The Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations:” That all such commissions, writs and processes, shall be otherwise of the same form and tenure as they heretofore were: That the courts of law be no longer entitled nor considered as the King’s courts: and that no instrument in writing, of any nature or kind, whether public or private, shall in the date thereof mention the year of the said King’s reign: Provided nevertheless, that nothing in this Act contained shall render void or vitiate any commission, writ, process or instrument, heretofore made or executed, on account of the name and authority of the said King being therein inserted.

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