THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JULY 4, 1776

Declaration of Independence

declaration-of-independenceOriginally designed to influence the sometimes reluctant and uncertain public opinion, both in the colonies and abroad (particularly in France, a potential military ally), the Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson and ratified shortly after by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 — two days it had officially severed ties to Great Britain.

In composing the greatest, most famous legal document, Jefferson, a well regarded writer, drew heavily not only on the ideas of his fellow patriots, but also on the natural-rights theories of John Locke and the Swiss legal philosophy of Emerich de Vattel. The principles set forth in the Declaration, among them the revolutionary notion that human beings had rights — which even governments and kings could not take from them, would nevertheless become a rallying cry for Jefferson and the people in the United States of America.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Miller, Laura M. “Declaration of Independence (1776).” Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 9. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. 139-141. U.S. History in Context. Web.

THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JUNE 24, 1948

Soviets Blockade West Berlin

soviets-blockade-west-berlinThe division of Germany into eastern and western halves was mirrored by the splitting of the former unified nation’s capital, Berlin, located deep in the heart of East Germany, into pro-Western and pro-Soviet sectors as well. The Kremlin, disturbed by the presence of a pro-Western enclave in the heart of Soviet-held German territory, grew incensed by the refusal of Western trains to be inspected within the Soviet zone by Russian soldiers.

The response was swift and shocking. Soviet troops blocked all ground access to Berlin. At first claiming to be making road repairs, the Kremlin finally acknowledged its intention to envelope Western-controlled Berlin by starving its populace into submission. Agreements after World War II allowed for access by air but not by roadway, leaving the Western allies little choice but to supply the 2.5 million people within their sectors of Berlin with all of the food, medical supplies and clothing they would need to survive the coming winter.

At first the allies got off to a slow start. Western-controlled Berlin needed 4,000 tons of food a day to survive. The allies at the time could only fly in about 700 tons. President Harry Truman (1884–1972), recognizing the daunting odds, resisted domestic pressures to abandon Berlin and, with the assistance of the British, began assembling flight crews and gathering available aircraft to fly. From June 1948 until September 1949, flights entered and left Berlin in a steady stream, insuring the survival of the besieged Berliners. The Soviet blockade was lifted in May 1949.

“Commentary on Berlin Airlift.” The Cold War. Ed. Walter Hixson. Woodbridge, CT: Primary Source Media, 2000. American Journey. U.S. History in Context. Web.


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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JUNE 17, 1885

Statue of Liberty Arrives in New York

statue-of-libertyOn this day in 1885, the dismantled State of Liberty, a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of America, arrives in New York Harbor after being shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in 350 individual pieces packed in more than 200 cases. The copper and iron statue, which was reassembled and dedicated the following year in a ceremony presided over by U.S. President Grover Cleveland, became known around the world as an enduring symbol of freedom and democracy.


Learn more about sculptor, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi »

Read the poem “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus »

THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JUNE 9, 1973

Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown

SecretariatOn June 9, 1973, almost 100,000 people came to Belmont Park near New York City to see if “Big Red” would become the first horse in 25 years to win the Triple Crown. Secretariat gave the finest performance of his career in the Belmont Stakes, completing the 1½–mile race in a record 2 minutes and 24 seconds, knocking nearly three seconds off the track record set by Gallant Man in 1957. He also won by a record 31 lengths. Ron Turcotte, who jockeyed Secretariat in all but three of his races, claimed that at Belmont he lost control of Secretariat and that the horse sprinted into history on his own accord.

Secretariat was euthanized in 1989 after falling ill. An autopsy showed that his heart was two and a half times larger than that of the average horse, which may have contributed to his extraordinary racing abilities. In 1999, ESPN ranked Secretariat No. 35 in its list of the Top 50 North American athletes of the 20th century — the only non-human on the list.

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JUNE 6, 1944

WORLD-WAR-II-D-DAYThe Greatest Invasion in History

The term D-Day in general denotes the unnamed day on which a military offensive is to be launched. In particular, D-Day refers to June 6, 1944, the day on which the Allied forces invaded France during World War II, and to the following victory over Germany; in this connection D-Day stands for the greatest logistical achievement in military history as well.

One day after the originally scheduled date, the Allies landed around 155,000 troops in Normandy; 57,500 Americans on the Utah and Omaha beaches; 75,000 British and Canadian soldiers on the Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches; plus nearly 23,500 British and American airborne troops. The troops had been delivered to the landing zones by an armada of nearly 900 merchant vessels and over 4,000 landing ships and landing craft, which had been marshaled and escorted by more than 1,200 naval combat ships. Some 195,700 personnel were assigned to the operation. In the air, nearly 12,000 fighter, bomber, and transport aircraft supported the landings, against which the Luftwaffe (the German air force) was able to deploy fewer than 400 planes. On this day, the Allied pilots flew over 14,000 sorties, and only 127 aircraft were lost. In the airborne landings on the flanks of the Utah and Sword beaches, more than 3,000 aircraft and gliders of the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) were used on D-Day.

“D-Day.” Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction. Ed. John Merriman and Jay Winter. Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 780-784. World History in Context. Web.


Learn more about the Normandy Invasion »