Friday, March 29, 2013

William Henry Harrison

Another Presidential Friday brings us to William Henry Harrison, our ninth president and also the one with the shortest term. He served the country from March 4, 1841, to April 4, 1841, before dying on pneumonia.

He was the first President from the Whig political party, and he earned the nickname "Old Tip" for his military success as commanding general the the Battle of Tippecanoe against a group of Native Americans. He was also the first sitting President photographed. As 12-year governor of the Indiana territory, he insured the securing of Native American lands so that settlers could gather more territory. 

He was nominated for presidency in 1836 but lost, but was successfully elected President in 1840. At 68 years, this made him the oldest President to take office until Reagan, and being born in 1773, he also became the last President born before the Declaration of Independence.

His Presidential campaign in 1840 started because his party wished for a less conservative candidate. As he campaigned, he blamed incumbent President van Buren for the economic crisis, the Panic of 1837, and he gathered support for his image as a military hero. In electoral votes, Harrison won in a landslide, though due to popular vote, he won by 53% to 47%.

On his inauguration day, he gave the longest inaugural address in American history, taking about two hours. The cold and wet day in addition to his lack of a proper jacket or hat led to his contracting pneumonia. His address spoke of his presidential plan, which fit the Whig agenda. Amongst his plans were to reinstitute the national bank and give it the ability to distribute paper money. Harrison also sought to overthrow the spoils system.

During his campaign, influential Whig party member Henry Clay attempted to control Harrison's decisions, including Clay's opposition to the Whig party platform of overturning the spoils system. But Harrison stood strong and even antagonized Clay when Harrison elected Clay's Whig party arch-rival, Daniel Webster, as his Secretary of State. To Clay, he said, "Mr. Clay, you forget that I am the President." He also resisted when Whigs urged him to remove all Democrats from any appointed office. He responded "So help me God, I will resign my office before I can be guilty of such an iniquity!"

The only substantial act of his short presidency was the special session he reluctantly enacted for Congress, meant to meet May 31st, as a counter-measure to financial trouble. Harrison was told that the government couldn't afford to operate until the next congressional meeting in December.

And on April 4th, Harrison fulfilled his last presidential first: the first President to die in office.

Source:, Miller Center, White, Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Kudryvaka was a stray mixed-breed dog found on the streets of Moscow. She was also the first living creature to be sent into orbit.

On November 3rd, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2, carrying Kudryvaka into space as a test. They had no plan for recovery of the dog, and so she also became the first living creature to die in orbit.

Though her name was Kudryvaka, or "little curly," she became widely known amongst Russians as Laika (a name attributed to several breeds similar to the Siberian Husky, which Kudryvaka was), and Muttnik amongst Americans as a pun on Sputnik. She was the first animal in orbit, but not the first one in space: the US and USSR had been strapping animals to the tops of rockets since 1947 in order to see the conditions of space on a living thing.

Though it was said after her death that she died peacefully and painlessly a week into orbit, medical sensors amongst other things show she actually died from overheating and stress just a few hours after the launch.

She is famed and beloved for her tragic story and also her importance in the research of space travel. Today stands a monument dedicated to Laika in Moscow, erected in April of 2008. The Space Race between the US and the USSR which proved as background to Laika's launch may be long over, but Laika's memory is not.

Graphic novels have been drawn ( and songs have been sung ( and dubbed ( all in dedication to Laika, who was 3 years old at the time of her launch and death.

Her face has additionally adorned a 1959 Romanian stamp, reading ""Laika, first traveller into Cosmos."

Sources: History 1900s.about,, BBC News, Wikipedia

Monday, March 25, 2013

Canadian Tulip Festival

A bed of tulips during the Ottawa Tulip Festiv...
A bed of tulips during the Ottawa Tulip Festival. Major's Hill Park, Ottawa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Canadian Tulip Festival
Canadian Tulip Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Canadian Tulip Festival is an annual event in Ottawa, Canada's capital, held in May. 2013 marks its 61st occurrence. Starting in 1953, it has developed into the largest tulip festival in the world, featuring over a million tulips each year to be viewed.

But how did this tradition start, and why does it continue to be held? It's all owed to the long-lasting friendship between the Canadian and the Dutch originating from World War II, when Canada was an Allied Power and the Netherlands a territory occupied by the Axis.

Princess Juliana and her family fled to and resided in Ottawa during much of the war for protection, and the Canadian government indeed offered them safe-haven. At the same time, Canadian troops were among those responsible for liberating the country of the Netherlands from German control. The Dutch people and their princess expressed deep gratitude to their Canadian brothers and sisters in 1945 by sending 100,000 tulips to the capital.

Now, the giving of the tulips happens once every year, and the Netherlands send 20,000 tulip bulbs a year to Ottawa. At Commissioner's Park in the spring, an arrangement called the Queen Juliana Gift Bed commemorates the royal maiden.

Other traditions other than the flower viewing at this yearly festival include outdoor music concerts and Celebridée, a unique event allowing speakers to bring up important issues to their listeners and discuss the issues, with anything ranging from physics to literature, medicine and beyond. 

Sources: Ottawa, Tulip, Canada's, Wikipedia
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Friday, March 22, 2013

Martin van Buren

English: Presidential $1 Coin Program coin for...
English: Presidential $1 Coin Program coin for Martin Van Buren. Obverse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Picture of Martin Van Buren
English: Picture of Martin Van Buren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The 8th presidential Friday brings us to Martin van Buren. Serving as president from 1837 to 1841, just one term, he had a variety of nicknames, such as "the Little Magician," "the Red Fox of Kinderhook," and "Martin van Ruin," the latter coming from his political opponents.

He became well known by the public as Andrew Jackson's secretary of state. As secretary, he helped Jackson gain the upper hand in the President's rift with his Vice President, Calhoun. van Buren was then elected as Jackson's Vice President and finally won the election to be President in 1836. 

Van Buren became the first US President to have been born a US citizen as well as the first and only US President for whom English was a not a first language (van Buren's first language was Dutch). He was a major founder of the Democratic party and the one to champion an "Independent Treasury," in which the Treasury would control all federal funds, though his 1837 proposal was not accepted by his party until 1840.

As President, he rejected the annexation of Texas, a territorial gain that would later come to pass under President John Tyler eight years later.During van Buren's term were both the bloodless Arostook War, straining tensions with the British and its colonies, and the Panic of 1837, a financial crisis for which many people blamed van Buren.

Also during his rule, van Buren further oversaw the Trail of Tears, or relocation of Native Americans, that his predecessor Jackson had started. During the 1838 Mormon War, in which Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs ordered his troops to exterminate or drive the Mormons from the state of Missouri, Latter-Day Saint Joseph Smith Jr. pleaded with the President for his assistance. However, van Buren, though claiming to have wished he could help, also stated that aiding the Mormons would make him lose Missouri.

Van Buren was generally viewed by his opponents as a man of the "golden spoon," or a privileged man that they could not relate to. Therefore, though the Democratic party unanimously renominated van Buren for the 1840 election, the Democrats lost to the Whig party's presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison.

"As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it."
-Martin van Buren

 Sources: Miller Center, White,  Wikipedia
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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hong Kong ceded back to China

Apologies again for the late entry! Diving right in, today we focus on Asia.

Following China's loss to the UK in the Opium Wars and specifically the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, China conceded many things to the British such as money, ports, and territory, including the region known as Hong Kong.

The UK proceeded to have sovereignty over Hong Kong up until July 1, 1997, and Hong Kong was heavily influenced by its English-speaking, democratic ruling government. However, though Hong Kong Island itself was leased permanently to the UK, other territories garnered in the Opium Wars held a 99-year lease period. The temporary British dominions became impossible to separate from the permanently-leased territories, and so when the time came to return the temporary territories, Hong Kong was given back to China as well.

This transfer of power saw a lot of support and controversy. Many Chinese were pleased, believing Hong Kong to be a lost Chinese territory that belonged with its country once more. The PRC had also refused to acknowledge the "unfair and unequal" treaties leading to China's loss of Hong Kong and other territories, and therefore had only recognized British administration in Hong Kong but not British sovereignty. Yet, many Westerners felt that the Hong Kong people, exposed to and used to democracy under the British crown, should not be subject to a controlling communist regime after so much time.

Talks had begun years before the official hanging over of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong government felt largely left in the dark about the fate of its own country. Many Hong Kong citizens had heard of instances of brutality by the Chinese government, such as the Tiananmen Square incident. More than 100,000 citizens of Hong Kong fled to obtain UK residency forms, and in 1992, Hong Kong reached peak emigration at 66,000. 

Many things have changed and many things have stayed the same since the power transfer. English is still taught in Hong Kong's schools, and Hong Kong still sends its own team to the Olympics. However, the position of governor of Hong Kong was terminated and many national holidays were changed. Notably, though Hong Kong had celebrated Double Ten day (the celebration of the establishment of the Republic of China, or Taiwan) under British rule, it ceased to be a public holiday under Chinese rule.

Sources: Asian History.about, NYTimes, Wikipedia

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Andrew Jackson

Though this post is a bit late, here's another President for Presidential Friday! Andrew Jackson served as the US commander in chief from 1829 to 1837. He was born in a backwoods settlement with education only from time to time, but became a successful lawyer and the first man from Tennessee elected to the House of Representatives. He had been orphaned by the age of 14 and started the law practice under his uncle. Nicknamed "Old Hickory", he was the first so-called self-made man in the White House.

 An amusing story about his election and the Democratic party plays off of Jackson's name. In the 1828 election, Jackson's opponents referred to him as a "jackass," which can refer to a donkey. Jackson liked the nickname and used it as a symbol for a while, though it died out before being revived as a symbol of the Democratic Party. In contrast, the Republican party's symbol is an elephant.

His image as a simple man appealed to the people, and in his verbal opposition to what he called a closed-off, undemocratic aristocracy, he found the approval of many of the common people. He was also popular for his high role in the military during the war of 1812. Following his work as a courier during the Revolutionary War and his capture by the British as a young boy, Jackson had a strong hatred for the British. Once in office, he supported a smaller federal government, and his supporters formed the modern Democratic party. He stood against a national bank and in favor of states right's, except in a state's right to nullify a federal law. He is perhaps most famous for his aggressive relocation of Native Americans- the Trail of Tears.

In addition to his Indian removal policy, his brand of economics bred the 1830's-1850's "jacksonian democracy." In 1835, Jackson paid off the entire national debt, the only time in history that has occurred. However, an 1837-1844 depression led to the incurrence of over $3.3 million in national debt, which has not been paid off to this day.

Sources: The White, Wikipedia,, Miller Center

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Durand Line

The Durand Line refers to a boundary that marks the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Back at its formation, the line established in the Hindu Kush (a mountain range in southwest Asia) and named for Sir Mortimer Durand separated sovereignty of the region amongst Afghanistan, Balochistan, and British India. The line is 1,519 miles long.

 The British ordered the demarcation with the Durand Treaty, and Afghan ruler Amir Abdur Rehman Khan
signed it in 1893. The division started over disputed land, and an attempt in 1949 by Afghanistan's "Grand Council" to void the Durand Treaty was ignored, as the treaty was such that both parties must agree and not make unilateral decisions about the division. Just two years prior, Afghanistan voted against Pakistan's admission into the United Nations, indicating high tensions between the neighboring countries. Some Afghan scholars say that after 100 years, the Durand Treaty was to expire and the disputed territory was to be returned to Afghanistan. Yet there is no mention of an expiration date in the Durand Line Agreement.

Controversy again rose when the Pashtun people, residing on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, were given only the option to join India or Pakistan.  As of today, Pakistan's government urges the Afghans to recognized the Durand Line, though many Afghan politicians think it should be gotten rid of. Many Pashtun people in both countries also do not agree with the existence of the Durand Line.

Sources: Britannica, The Free Dictionary,,, Wikipedia
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Monday, March 11, 2013

Victory in Europe Day

Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives the &qu...
Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives the "Victory" sign to crowds in London on Victory in Europe Day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel signing the unco...
Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel signing the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht at the Soviet headquarters in Karlshorst, Berlin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
May 8th, 1945, was a joyous day for the Allies of World War II indeed. Following Italy's previous surrender and Hitler's suicide on April 30th, Germany agreed signed to unconditional surrender on May 7th, and it was ratified in Berlin on May 8th. This marked the end of the European Axis Powers, leaving only the Empire of Japan to oppose the Allies. It was German General Jodl's signature that officially ended the war in Europe.

In the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill stood on the Palace Balcony and waved to part of the more than one million people out in the streets, celebrating. Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II, and Princess Margaret took place in the festivities in disguise amongst the crowd.

In the United States, flags remained at half-mast in accordance with the 30-day mourning period following former President Franklin Roosevelt's death of a cerebral hemorrhage. The Victory in Europe Day occured on current President Truman's 61st birthday, and he dedicated the victory to Roosevelt, wishing only "that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day." Indeed, FDR, President throughout most of World War II, died less than a month before the victory in Europe.

In Canada, festivities and celebrations were dampened heavily as servicemen, seamen, and civilians turned to raids, known as the Halifax raids. In Soviet Russia, the surrender was considered only preliminary until German Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel signed the surrender in USSR headquarters, where Soviet signatures had authority. Due to time difference, Victory in Europe day is usually celebrated on May 9th in Russia. 

Sources: InfoPlease, Wikipedia, History Learning
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Friday, March 8, 2013

John Quincy Adams

Our sixth Presidential Friday takes us to John Quincy Adams. Throughout his life, he belonged to three different political parties: Federalist, Democratic-Republican, and Whig.


He was a one-term President, winning the 1824 election against Andrew Jackson, but then losing the 1828 election to Jackson. As  was common in the early 19th century, Adams was considered the political heir to the presidency since his father, John Adams, had also been president, but there was vision amongst his party, the (Democratic-)Republicans.

As President, he decreased the national debt from $16 million to $5 million. He enforced high tariffs and attempted to slow down the American's rapid movement westward. In doing so, he provided an increased measure of safety to the Native Americans settled in those lands, earning him criticism from expansionists. He was also ardently opposed to slavery, and therefore many proponents of states rights within the Congress shot down his proposals.

Election of 1828

He was the mastermind behind the Monroe Doctrine and favored not involving the US in foreign wars. However, he is remembered as a strong diplomat, forming beneficial and reciprocal relations with many nations such as those in Northern Europe. Overall, he was an independent mind, not wishing to be bound by things such as party and dissenting Congress members. He faced large opposition from political members who favored Jackson, and when Jackson won the 1828 election, Adams did not attend his inauguration, partly in response to Jackson's failure to give him a "courtesy call" in Adam's outgoing weeks. By this action, he became one of an exclusive group of presidents (excluding those who died in office) to not attend their successors' inauguration, his father being another president of that group.

Sources: Miller Center,, White, Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Maria Theresa and Frederick the Great

Two figures in history helped shape much of European history in the 1700s- Maria Theresa of Austria (and effectively Holy Roman Empress) and Frederick the Great of Prussia. The two fought two wars against one another, the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War. But did you also know that Frederick the Great, affectionately nicknamed Old Fritz by his subjects, planned on marrying Maria Theresa? He wished that by her marrying into the Prussian throne, she would renounce being the successor of Austria's throne and the inheritor of the Austrian empire's land.

    Maria Theresa of Austria

Certainly a confusing relationship, with actions defined mainly by politics. However, the two's personal relationship may have at times caused or stood in defiance to interactions.

Despite Old Fritz' plans to marry Maria Theresa, he was forced by his adviser into marrying Elisabeth Christine, a marriage he despised every second of, declaring there could be no "love or friendship" between the two and even contemplates suicide before finally going through with the wedding. There have also been considerations by historians that Frederick the Great was a homosexual, with his relationship with Hans Verman von Katte in particular speculated to be romantic. This theory, if true, would further portray Frederick the Great's plan to marry Maria Theresa as a cold strategic move as opposed to being driven by any sort of affection.

As Maria Theresa was a woman, her father had to draft what is known as the Pragmatic Sanction to allow her to inherit his land. Many opposing nations wished to have some of the Austrian Empire's land, and so they opposed Maria Theresa's ascension to the throne. Old Fritz recognized Maria Theresa's ascension, but occupied the Austrian territory of Silesia and laid claim to the territory in return for aiding Maria Theresa and Austria against its enemies. If not ceded the land, Frederick the Great threatened to join those enemies. Maria Theresa, fearing that she would illegitimize the entire Pragmatic Sanction by giving in, defended the territory in what escalated into the War of Austrian Succession. In the end, Prussia kept Silesia and Maria Theresa began a life-long hatred for Old Fritz. A Prussian ambassador writes to Frederick the Great, " She detests Your Majesty, but acknowledges your ability. She cannot forget the loss of Silesia, nor her grief over the soldiers she lost in wars with you." She also referred to him as "that evil man."

Despite their obvious land conflicts and the supreme difference in their ruling styles (Maria Theresa was more willing to share power, less warmongering, but also a religiously intolerant Catholic to Old Fritz' autocratic, war-heavy, but religiously tolerant Protestant rule), the two did seem to share mutual respect for one another. A Prussian ambassador who wrote to Frederick the Great had many positive things to say about her, while Frederick the Great himself wrote of her, "That woman's achievements are those of a great man."

Certainly much of how Europe's territories were distributed and how wars played out depended on these two figures, and especially how the two interacted. Many have speculated how Europe's history would be different had Old Fritz and Maria Theresa actually married, though a good portion of that many believe that an Austrian-Prussian state would implode on itself due to the contradictory political nature of both nations. Should the two monarchs have hatred or admiration for one another, the two of them and their relationship have been very interesting and a fascinating topic for historians to this day.

Sources: Wikipedia,, Mad Monarchist.blogspot
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Monday, March 4, 2013

Principality of Wy

Principality of Wy
Principality of Wy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time again. Monthly Micronation Monday. And what obscure territory will we explore this time? Why, the Principality of Wy, in Australia! 

It originated with the Delprat family and their home in Sydney of Mosman. They applied to build a driveway in front of their house. Yet, after 11 years, the issue still had not come to a solution. Finally, on November 13 of 2004, the Delprat family, formally dressed, visited Town Hall and presented a Decree of Secession to the mayor of Mosman. 

The ambitious family declares 7,500 square feet to be their country’s territory.  Wy is a heavily artistic nation, sponsoring art prizes and holding exhibitions.

Prince Paul and the Serene Family in the Forest of Wy by Samuel Wade
Prince Paul leads the nation, and much of the nation’s activity takes place online today on their official website: The family seems to take a light-hearted approach to their royalty on the website, including pictures of a sleeping Prince Paul draped in fake jewelry by his children. 

One of the more famous micronations and one of the many in Australia, Wy’s seemingly most defining characteristic is its artistry.

Sources: Wikipedia, Principality of

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