Today in 1861, Texas became the seventh state to secede from the Union when a state convention voted 166 to 8 in favor of the measure.
The Texans who voted to leave the Union did so over the objections of their governor, Sam Houston, a staunch Unionist. Pressure mounted on Houston to call a convention so that Texas could consider secession. He did so reluctantly in January 1861, and sat in silence as the convention voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession. Houston grumbled that Texans were “stilling the voice of reason,” and he predicted an “ignoble defeat” for the South. Houston refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy and was replaced in March 1861 by his lieutenant governor.
Seven states–South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas–left the Union before Lincoln took office. Four more states–Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas– waited until the formal start of the Civil War, with the firing on Fort Sumter. The remaining slave states–Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri–never mustered the necessary majority for secession.
Columbia reentered the earth’s atmosphere on its 28th space mission today in 2003. It wasn’t until 10 minutes later, at 8:53 a.m. that the first indications of trouble began. Because the heat-resistant tiles covering the left wing’s leading edge had been damaged or were missing, wind and heat entered the wing and blew it apart.
The first debris began falling to the ground in west Texas near Lubbock at 8:58 a.m. One minute later, the last communication from the crew was heard, and at 9 a.m. the shuttle disintegrated over southeast Texas, near Dallas. Debris and the remains of the crew were found in more than 2,000 locations across East Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. Making the tragedy even worse, two pilots aboard a search helicopter were killed in a crash while looking for debris. Strangely, worms that the crew had used in a study that were stored in a canister aboard the Columbia did survive.
In August 2003, an investigation board issued a report that revealed that it in fact would have been possible either for the Columbia crew to repair the damage to the wing or for the crew to be rescued from the shuttle. The Columbia could have stayed in orbit until February 15 and the already planned launch of the shuttle Atlantis could have been moved up as early as February 10, leaving a short window for repairing the wing or getting the crew off of the Columbia.
In the aftermath of the Columbia disaster, the space shuttle program was grounded until July 16, 2005, when the space shuttle Discovery was put into orbit.
Today in 1790 in the Royal Exchange Building, New York City, the Supreme Court of the United States met for the first time.
The U.S. Supreme Court was established by Article Three of the U.S. Constitution, which took effect in March 1789 and granted the Supreme Court ultimate jurisdiction over all laws, especially those in which constitutionality was at issue. The court was also designated to rule on cases concerning treaties of the United States, foreign diplomats, admiralty practice, and maritime jurisdiction.
In September 1789, the Judiciary Act was passed, implementing Article Three by providing for six justices who would serve on the court for life. The same day, President George Washington appointed John Jay to preside as chief justice, and John Rutledge of South Carolina, William Cushing of Massachusetts, John Blair of Virginia, Robert Harrison of Maryland, and James Wilson of Pennsylvania to serve as associate justices. Two days later, all six appointments were confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The Supreme Court later grew into arguably the most powerful judicial body in the world in terms of its central place in the U.S. political order. In times of constitutional crisis, for better or worse, it always played a definitive role in resolving the great issues of the time.
Today in 1970, goaltender Terry Sawchuk earned his 103rd shutout, setting an NHL record for most regular-season shutouts that still stands today.
Later that year, on May 31, Sawchuk died at age 40 from injuries sustained during an incident with his roommate and teammate Ron Stewart. No criminal charges were ever filed against Stewart, but the exact circumstances of what happened between the two men–whether it was horseplay or an actual altercation–remains unknown.
Sawchuk’s career record includes 446 wins in 972 regular-season games, a record he held until the 1999-2000 season, when it was bested by Patrick Roy. Sawchuk also posted a total of 115 shutouts–103 in the regular season and 12 in playoff games. Considered one of the greatest goalies in the history of his sport, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1971. In March 1994, the Detroit Red Wings retired his jersey.
Today in 2004 during the Super Bowl the first TV commercial aired for the Ford GT, a new, high-performance “supercar” based on Ford’s GT40 race car, which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in France four years in a row starting in 1966. The TV ad for the two-seater Ford GT featured a driver’s eye view of the car noisily zooming around California’s Thunderhill Raceway, and ended with the tag line: “The Pace Car for an Entire Company.”
The history of the GT40 dates back to the early 1960s, when Henry Ford II decided to launch a racing program in order to better promote his company. (The initials stood for Gran Turismo or Grand Touring; the number represented the car’s height in inches.) Ford set his sights on winning the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which was dominated in the first half of the 1960s by Italian automaker Ferrari. Endurance racing tested the stamina of both car and driver, and a victory at Le Mans was considered as a testament to a car’s superior engineering. And in 1966, Ford’s race cars experienced major success, first at Sebring and Daytona, then Le Mans. The following year, a GT40 Mk IV took first place at Le Mans, while a GT40 Mk I won in 1968 and 1969. Rule changes after the 1969 race ended the GT40′s four-year winning streak at Le Mans.
The Ford GT that appeared in the Super Bowl ad was a bigger version of its 1960s namesake and carried a price tag of around $150,000. Although the Ford GT generated great interest, in 2006 the company announced it would discontinue the car, stating it was only intended to be built for two production years. In 2007, Ford shuttered the Wixom, Michigan, plant where the GT was built.
Today, along with Le Mans, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Rolex 24 at Daytona are known as the Triple Crown of endurance racing.
Today in 1943 Japanese forces on Guadalcanal Island, defeated by Marines, start to withdraw after the Japanese emperor finally gave them permission.
On July 6, 1942, the Japanese landed on Guadalcanal Island, part of the Solomon Islands chain, and began constructing an airfield. In response, the U.S. launched Operation Watchtower, in which American troops landed on five islands within the Solomon chain, including Guadalcanal. The landings met with initial opposition from the Japanese defenders, despite the fact that the landings took the Japanese by surprise because bad weather had grounded their scouting aircraft. “I have never heard or read of this kind of fighting,” wrote one American major general on the scene. “These people refuse to surrender.”
More than 11,000 Marines landed on Guadalcanal, but 24 hours passed before the Japanese manning the garrison knew what had happened. The U.S. forces quickly met their main objective of taking the airfield. Japanese reinforcements were landed and fierce hand-to-hand jungle fighting ensued. The U.S. Navy supplied reinforcement troops and the Americans gained the advantage. By February 1943, the Japanese retreated on secret orders of their emperor. In fact, the Japanese retreat was so stealthy that the Americans did not even know it had taken place until they stumbled upon abandoned positions, empty boats, and discarded supplies.
In total, the Japanese lost more than 25,000 men compared with a loss of 1,600 by the Americans. Each side lost 24 warships.
Today in 1960 at Greensboro, North Carolina, four black students sat down and ordered coffee at a lunch counter inside a Woolworth’s store. They were refused service, but did not leave. Instead, they waited all day. The scene was repeated over few days, with protests spreading to other southern states, resulting in the eventual arrest of over 1,600 persons for participating in sit-ins.
Happy birthday Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway, first woman elected to the U.S. Senate, born today in 1878 at Bakersville, Tennessee.
Her husband became the U.S. Senator from Arkansas. Following his death in 1931, she filled the remainder of his term, then was elected, serving a total of 14 years.
Hattie Caraway died December 21, 1950 at Falls Church, Virginia. She was age 72. Caraway is buried at Jonesboro, Arkansas. Her gravesite was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, September 20, 2007.
Happy birthday John Martin Feeney, later known as John Ford, Navy Reserve rear admiral, producer and film director, born today in 1895 at Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
Ford began his career in 1917 and directed about 60 silent films through 1928, most are lost. In 1928 he began directing “talkies,” the first featured a young John Wayne as an extra. Ford is known for his westerns; yet, his Oscars for Best Director are not westerns. He was nominated for Stagecoach (1939). The Informer (1935); The Grapes of Wrath (1940); How Green Was My Valley (1941); and The Quiet Man (1952) are four Oscars for Best Director that is a record still held.
Ford’s last feature film was 7 Women (1966); and his last completed project was a documentary, Chesty: A Tribute to a Legend (1970), about Marine general Lewis Puller. It was not released until 1976.
John Ford produced or directed about 140 films in his career. He died August 31, 1973 at Palm Desert, California. He was age 79. He is interned at Culver City, California.
In March 1973 the American Film Institute honored him with its first Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony which was telecast nationwide, with President Richard Nixon promoting Ford to full Admiral and presenting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.