I’m probably the only one who enjoys these, but I love writing these history pieces and it’s Christmas, so let me have this.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love history and I don’t get many opportunities to discuss history, so I like to write these a couple of times per year to scratch that itch.
One of my favorite moments from this week in history is the famous Christmas Truce during World War I in 1914. On Christmas Day, after roughly three months of truly terrible warfare, both sides had a ceasefire where they met on the battlefield and shook hands, sang carols and played soccer. For one day, everyone forgot they were fighting.
However, I think that is a fairly well-known event. Let’s try talking about some lesser-known events - or at the very least lesser-known aspects to well-known events.
1802 - U.S. buys the Louisiana territory
Yes, we all know about the Louisiana Purchase, when the United States purchased the land that is currently occupied by nearly one-third of the “Lower 48,” but there are some interesting points about this purchase, namely the fact that the U.S. government really just wanted the port of New Orleans for strategic purposes, but came away with much more.
American representatives were given the authority to pay up to $10 million - but hopefully less - for just New Orleans and the surrounding area, but French leader (his title changed many times) Napoleon Bonaparte instead offered to sell the entire territory - roughly 530 million acres - for $15 million. The consensus seems that Napoleon was eager to sell the land - which proved difficult to maintain - in an effort to fund other conflicts France was dealing with at the time.
That $15 million total comes out to about 3 cents per acre. In today’s dollars, that sum amounts to about 65 cents per acre, which is still way too good of an offer to pass up.
Now, that plot of land makes up at least a part of 15 different states, including Minnesota.
1947 - Truman pardons 1,500-plus draft objectors
Harry S. Truman’s rise to the presidency was an odd one, to say the least. He was the third vice president under a very popular president in Franklin D. Roosevelt, and only served in that role for about three months before FDR passed away and Truman had to assume the highest office in the land in the middle of the largest war the world had ever known.
He guided the nation through it, in part by making some very tough decisions.
Roughly two years after the war ended, Truman pardoned 1,523 people who were convicted of violating the Selective Training and Service Act, many of whom objected for religious reasons.
I’m sure this wasn’t the most popular decision he made with the public - and likely wouldn’t be today either - but there is no denying that it is an interesting show of mercy just before Christmas.
1968 - First photos of earth from the moon
When we talk about the moon, we usually go straight to talking about 1969 and Apollo 11, the first successful manned lunar landing mission. However, the Apollo 8 crew made it to the moon roughly six months earlier. They just did not land, instead simply orbiting the moon before returning home.
Though the crew did not land, astronaut William Anders took what may be one of the most iconic and influential photos in human history. The photo shows the lunar surface in the foreground with a bright blue “earthrise” in the background.
Shortly after that, the photo was in newspapers, on televisions and stamps and virtually everywhere else.
That’s it for me. Thanks for letting me nerd out, and Merry Christmas.
Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.