Friday, November 25, 2005

An Historical Throwdown

Normally, the Throwdown would go here, but I'm a little bummed over Nick and Jessica, and since it's a holiday week there hasn't been that much going on that's very interesting. Instead of my 15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week, in honor of Thanksgiving I've got 15 random facts about America that I find interesting.

1. There was a Swedish colony in the New World: New Sweden, in the Delaware River Valley. The log cabin, which has become a sort of early American icon, was brought over by the Swedish settlers and used in New Sweden (as it was in old Sweden).

2. Whatever our current problems with them might be, Venezuela was the first foreign nation to receive aid from America. In 1812, we sent them $50,000 to help the victims of a severe earthquake. We used to be good that way.

3. Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States. They did so in 1789.

4. America acquired Alaska from Russia in 1867 at the cost of 2 cents an acre (586,400 sq. miles). Canada wanted to add the territory to Canada, but Russia considered them to be their greatest enemy and sold it to the States instead. France, by the way, sold the Louisiana Purchase to the US in 1803 (doubling the size of the US) because they didn't want the English to capture it. Interesting that Great Britain are our allies now; we fought them again in 1812, they sided with the Confederate South in the US Civil War, and when they surrendered in 1781, they surrendered to the French, not the Americans. Most Americans don't seem to remember anything about the French help during the Revolution, but are forever throwing our military aid during World War II in their faces.

5. Jews first came to America in 1654; at the time of the Revolution, 1500 Jews lived in America. None were allowed to vote or hold public office.

6. Pennsylvania was not named after the Quaker William Penn, but after his father, Admiral William Penn. Charles II owed him a debt, and Penn agreed to waive it in exchange for land on the Delaware River.

7. The flag referred to by Francis Scott Key in "The Star-Spangled Banner" was 30 by 42 feet, and cost $405.90. Major George Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry, wanted a flag "so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance." The flag was also referred to as "Old Glory." This was during the War of 1812.

8. In the 1890s, one cowboy out of five was black. Most had learned to rope and ride while serving as slaves on Texas ranches.

9. Roughly half the populace of the US live in just eight of the union's fifty states: New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, and Massachussetts.

10. For all the flack given to hunters every fall, the vast, vast majority of deers killed in a calendar year are accidentally hit by cars.

11. Kentucky and Virginia nearly seceded from the US in 1798 amid criticism of the government; New England almost seceded in 1812 because they opposed war with Great Britain; in 1832, South Carolina almost seceded over a tariff dispute (they opposed the re-election of Andrew Jackson, but rescinded their vote when the realized Jackson was prepared to fight a war).

12. Georgia, Massachussetts, and Connecticut voted against the ratification of the Constitution in 1791; the other eleven states voted for it. The other three states did not ratify until 1941.

13. The International Workers of the World (the Wobblies), the first American working-class protest movement, burned their draft cards during World War I. Generally they liked to have a sit-in and sing folk songs. They were intellectuals, Marxists, and poets, and brought us songs like "Casey Jones" and "Solidarity Forever."

14. In colonial days, packages would be shipped from one colony all the way back to London, where the mail was sorted and then sent back to the colonies to arrive at their intended destinations.

15. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, it was not considered a federal felony to kill the President of the United States.