History Articles

History of the Constitution of the United States: 234 Years Ago

September 17, 2021 /
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On September 17, 1787, the US Constitution was created. Though it would take until

  • June 21, 1788, to be ratified, and until
  • March 4, 1789, to be effective,

In a very real sense, it was the founding document of the governmental system of the United States of America. Even to a greater extent than the Declaration of Independence, which was more of a “bill of divorcement” from England, the Constitution described how the United States would operate as a nation.


Purpose of the Constitution

The Philadelphia Convention, later referred to as the Constitutional Convention, was called ostensibly to amend the Articles of Confederation that had been in effect between 1781–89. But that effort was not realistic. Alexander Hamilton had called these Articles “imbecilic.” The Articles gave little power to the central government and were too weak to regulate conflicts between the states.

The Confederation Congress could make decisions but lacked enforcement powers; it could print money but it was worthless, there was inconsistent taxation from the states to support the federal government. States could make their own trade agreements with other countries. It was America’s experiment with a limited democracy, but it was deemed unsatisfactory. Instead, the Constitution empowered a representative republic.

Rather than “fix” the Articles, delegates decided to create a new government at the Convention held at the Pennsylvania State House. War of Independence General George Washington of Virginia was elected as president of the Convention. Foreshadowing?


History of Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement

September 15, 2021 /
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The Jewish High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashanah and continue until Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” or more correctly Yom ha-Kippurim (Leviticus 16), goes back to Jewish antiquity almost 4,000 years to the time of Moses. This most solemn occasion of the Jewish Festival cycle was the season for annual cleansing from sin, but in time its significance was deepened so that it acquired personal meaning and filled a personal need. It is observed on the 10th day of Tishri, the seventh month, and is the climax of the whole penitential season.


Yom Kippur in Biblical Times

Originally, on one day of the year, the high priest would enter into the innermost part of the Tabernacle (and later the Temple in Jerusalem). He would enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sacrifice for the sin of the people as a congregation and sprinkle it upon the ‘mercy seat’ of the Ark of the Covenant (made famous by the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” :-). This would “cover” the sin of the people, as this is what the Aramaic (and Hebrew) root “kaphar” (atonement) means. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., later Rabbinic legislation adapted the old ritual to the synagogue. The blast of the ‘shofar,’ the ritual ram’s horn trumpet, signifies, among other things, the inarticulate cry of the soul to God.

History of Ethiopian New Year: What is Enkutatash?

September 12, 2021 /
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Why is your friendly neighborhood historian writing about the Ethiopian New Year? A couple of years ago, the Washington Post interviewed me for an article they were publishing on the subject. The Washington D.C. area has over 200,000 Ethiopian-Americans who celebrate the holiday this year on September 12.

A group of local Ethiopian activists and businessmen want to make the day known as Enkutatash in Ethi­o­pia, a part of the American roster of holidays, in a way that is very similar to St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo. Columbus Day, for example, was popularized out of Denver, CO, back in the mid 19th century as a way of promoting Italian culture.


Meaning of Enkutatash

Enkutatash is the name for the Ethiopian New Year and means “gift of jewels” in the Amharic language. The story goes back almost 3,000 years to the Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia and Yemen, who was returning from a trip to visit King Solomon of Israel in Jerusalem, as mentioned in the Bible in I Kings 10 and II Chronicles 9. She had gifted Solomon with 120 talents of gold (4.5 tons) as well as a large amount of unique spices and jewels. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia, her chiefs welcomed her with enku or jewels to replenish her treasury.


History of 9/11, Twenty Years Ago: Patriot Day

September 11, 2021 /
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9-11HISTORY OF PATRIOT DAY: 9/11 Twenty Years Ago

On 9/11, twenty years ago, more Americans were killed on American soil in one day than any attack since Pearl Harbor in 1941. A series of terrorist airplane highjacking attacks occurred in New York City, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon… and the world changed. As the events of December 7, 1941, led to war, so too did the events of September 11, 2001.

4 Attacks on 9/11The memories of this one day in history were captured in the hearts of millions of Americans and people across the planet.

Some of these memories are preserved in the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, opened a decade ago on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

American’s were united against a common external enemy two decades ago. Everyone identified with the citizens of New York, FDNY caps and t-shirts became popular, people said, “We’re all New Yorkers.” For one brief shining moment, we were unified as a community.

History of Star Trek: 55 Years Ago and Today

September 8, 2021 /
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Star Trek premiered on NBC TV on September 8, 1966… 55 years ago. It is my favorite show; I was glued to the TV for the first episode and every one after that. It had a significant influence on my life in my choice of a career in technology.

The show represented an optimistic vision of the future where challenges of poverty and hunger had been addressed. But many other issues — relevant to the ’60s — were depicted as still being wrestled with centuries into the future. The Original Series showed a utopian view of science fiction that is rather different from current dystopian Sci-Fi TV and movies today. And the franchise is still creating new shows presently, as I’ll describe below.

Paramount today is kicking off a month-long celebration of the legacy of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Details at StarTrek.com/Day. The campaign will launch at Paramount+’s red carpet event on September 8, featuring Star Trek actors LeVar Burton, George Takei, Patrick Stewart, and others.

Star Trek did not just envision the future; it imagined it and helped drive it. It inspired generations of scientists, engineers, and technologists around the world. Many scientists today will say that it was Star Trek that influenced the projects they are working on, especially in the areas of space exploration, physics, optics, electronics, computing, and communication — as I’ll recount near the end of this article.


History of Rosh Hashanah: Jewish New Year

September 6, 2021 /
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Rosh Hashanah designates the beginning of the Jewish new year, starting tomorrow — which according to the Jewish calendar begins at sundown tonight. “Rosh” is Hebrew for “head” and Rosh Hashanah refers to the head of the year on the 1st day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish ecclesiastical calendar. It marks the beginning of the civil year. Judaism has a solar/lunar calendar system, in which the lunar reckoning predominates. The first in the cycle of months is Nissan (which has nothing to do with the automobile manufacturer), the month in which Passover occurs. However, solar years are reckoned to begin at Rosh Hashanah.

The new year is heralded with the blowing of the shofar or ram’s horn by the “baal t’kiah” (meaning master of the shofar-blast), during prayers and 100 blasts throughout the day. You’ve heard the story of Joshua leading the Jewish people to march around Jericho blowing their trumpets so that the “walls came a-tumbling down” (Joshua 6:4-5)? That’s the shofar.

Honeyed ApplesFestival meals during Rosh Hashanah include traditional foods mentioned in the Talmud (notes on the Jewish oral tradition, known as the Mishnah), including dates, leeks, spinach, gourd, and black-eyed peas. Also featured as a later medieval addition are apples dipped in honey, with the intention of bringing forth a sweet new year: Shanah Tovah Umetukah which translated from the Hebrew, שנה טובה ומתוקה‎ means

“[have a] Good and Sweet Year”


History of Labor Day

September 6, 2021 /
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Labor Day is the day we celebrate the process our mothers went through to deliver us at birth. Sorry, wrong holiday; Labor Day in the U.S. is the day we celebrate the achievements of the American labor movement.

While it is still disputed whether the holiday was first proposed by Peter J. McGuire, the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, or Matthew Maguire, a machinist and secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York — observances of the holiday go back over a century in the U.S.


First Celebration of Labor Day

Labor Day PosterThe first Labor Day celebration was on September 5, 1882, in New York City and was organized by the Central Labor Union. The legislature of New York first deliberated a bill to establish a regular holiday, but Oregon was the first to pass it on February 21, 1887. It was first proposed as “a street parade to exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”

In other countries, it’s often celebrated as International Workers’ Day on May Day. The U.S. does not observe it on May 1st for at least two reasons. The more recent one is that May 1 became associated with the Russian Revolution and Communism. But the more critical part of the backstory starts with the Chicago Haymarket Affair of 1886.


History of the Fall of the Roman Empire

September 4, 2021 /
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On this date, September 4, 476 AD,  Odoacer captured the city of Ravenna and deposed Emperor Romulus Augustus, marking the Fall of the Roman Empire. What do we mean by the Fall of the Roman Empire?


What do we mean by Roman Empire?

This part of the statement needs clarification first. When we say Roman Empire, we’re really only talking about the “Western Roman Empire.”


There was another Roman Empire?

Correct. Kind of.



History of September

September 1, 2021 /
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You may have noticed that September sounds like the Latin word for Seven. And you’d be perceptive — septem is the Latin word for seven, and this month used to be the seventh month of the ancient Roman calendar. This Latin numbering follows with the year’s remaining months, as I’ve highlighted below: eight/oct, nine/nov, ten/dec.


A Little Calendar History

Legend has it that this calendar was started by Romulus, the founder and first king of Rome, at around 753 BC. The months counted up as follows:

  1. Martius – 31 Days
  2. Aprilis – 30 Days
  3. Maius – 31 Days
  4. Iunius – 30 Days
  5. Quintilis – 31 Days
  6. Sextilis – 30 Days
  7. September – 30 Days
  8. October – 31 Days
  9. November – 30 Days
  10. December – 30 Days


History of I Have A Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. — 58 Years Ago

August 28, 2021 /
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Today, it was 58 years ago that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It continues to echo down the halls of history almost six decades later.

On August 28, 1963, the occasion for his speech was the March on Washington at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Over a quarter of a million supporters gathered at the Mall in Washington D.C., where King delivered his public speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking over the Reflecting Pool.

President John F. Kennedy had proposed earlier that year in June new civil rights registration, and this march was to demonstrate support for its passage. It was remarkable because it was one of the first such demonstrations of that size that was given extensive television coverage.

A century earlier, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 had declared millions of slaves free, but the declaration did not affect that freedom. The country was in the midst of a Civil War. (more…)

History of the 19th Amendment: Women’s Right to Vote, 101 Years Ago

August 26, 2021 /
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Over a hundred years ago, on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted. This prohibited both the Federal government and State governments from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States based on sex. Effectively, this meant that the right to vote could no longer be denied to women. The text, in part, read:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

For over 70 years before that, the women’s movement had been pressing for the legal right of women to vote, going back to the 1848 women’s rights Seneca Falls Convention, “a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” Two years later, the National Women’s Rights Convention in 1850 saw suffrage as an important part of the movement.

In 1869 the Women’s Movement coalesced around two different organizations.

  • In 1860 Susan B. Anthony led the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
  • The other was led by Lucy Stone, who helped organize the earlier National Women’s Rights Convention, and had influenced both Anthony and Stanton.

These two groups combined in 1873 into the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which campaigned for women’s suffrage, as well as for a “sober and pure world” achieved by “abstinence, purity, and evangelical Christianity.” This was to have a powerful impact on the passage of the 18th Amendment, the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. in 1919. (more…)

History of the California Gold Rush

August 19, 2021 /
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California Gold Rush


On August 19, 1848, the New York Herald reported the news along the American East Coast of the California Gold Rush. It was not new news to those further West, as the gold rush had started in January and was publicized in San Francisco in March. However, the New York Herald was then the most profitable and popular newspaper in the US. By the dawn of the American Civil War, the newspaper claimed a circulation of 84,000 copies and called itself “the most largely circulated journal in the world.” In any event, the news of the gold rush spread to a much larger audience than previously and circulated the gold fever much wider than before.


Gold Discovery

California Gold Rush Map

James Marshall was installing a water-powered sawmill along the American River in Coloma, California, when his carpenter discovered gold flakes in the stream bed in North-central California at Sutter’s Mill on January 24, 1848. Despite trying to keep the discovery a secret, the news spread in all directions — initially to Oregon, Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, Chile, Peru, and as far as China.

By mid-June, about three-quarters of the male population of San Francisco had left for the goldfields. By the end of a year, in 1848, around 20,000 had come to California to seek their fortune. Ultimately, about a third of a million people came to California from all over the world.

The military governor, Colonel Richard B. Mason, toured the goldfields and reported: two miners on Weber Creek gathered $17,000 of gold in just seven days; six miners with fifty Native American Indians took out 273 pounds of gold; sales at the goldfield merchandise store of Samuel Brannan‘s — a San Francisco entrepreneur — had totaled $36,000 in the three months of May, June, and July. He became the wealthiest man in California by opening the first supply stores in Sacrament and other locations throughout the goldfields. It was Gold Fever.