From 1896 to 2016, defeated presidential contenders have conceded gracefully to their opponents.

“HON. WM. MCKINLEY,” William Jennings Bryan wrote in his November 5, 1896 telegram to William McKinley, to whom Bryan had just lost the presidential election, “Senator Jones has just informed me that the returns indicate your election, and I hasten to extend my congratulations. We have submitted the issue to the American people and their will is law.”

Bryan’s communiqué to his opponent in the presidential election is considered the first in American history, which kickstarted a tradition among losers in the race for the next 120 years: the concession. …


Americans have given thanks through wars, depressions, and pandemics.

One of the educational staples passed on to American school children is the tale of The First Thanksgiving. The pilgrims, as it goes, arrived in Plymouth and established their colony in 1620, yet were decimated by a harsh winter that followed. The native Tisquantum (more commonly known as Squanto) helped by teaching them the best way to fish and plant corn, and the next year, when the harvest eventually came in, the pilgrims invited the Native Americans to their dinner table, which was laden with turkey, to celebrate.

As with most American myths, some of it is true and much of it is dubious. Only two contemporaneous accounts of that meal survive, both of which are included here. But historians differ on when the First Thanksgiving in America actually took place — sometime in the 1500s? 1607? 1610? 1619? 1621? …


But does she accept it?

Happy Election Day! With the Big Decision on the country’s mind today, it’s time for an election-themed update to an old story.

Image for post
Image for post
Famous violinist Maud Powell submits her ballot, 1920.

Two months ago I published an entry celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment — which guaranteed universal suffrage for women. In the timeline from the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 to today’s Texas ID laws, I included the story of Susan B. Anthony’s civilly-disobedient foray into voting in 1872. Nearly 150 years later, the story has a new twist . . . in more ways than one.


It’s the 126th anniversary of Labor Day. Why do we celebrate working by not working?

Monday, September 7, 2020 marks the 126th anniversary of the federal holiday Labor Day, though some states, Oregon being the first, had been celebrating it already.

Image for post
Image for post

From the late 1700s to mid 1800s, an industrial revolution, starting in Britain, swept over Europe and the United States. “Revolution” is not an overstatement; the transition from hand production methods to mass production by machines transformed the economy, work, population movements, economic classes, living standards, health, and the government’s role in all of it.

In the early 1800s the United States, like most of the world, ran on primarily an agricultural, pastoral, and natural resource based economy. Inspired by Britain’s industrial development, Americans then contributed their own technological inventions to speed up work, most notably the modern cotton gin and the milling machine. …


“We insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.”

“TENNESSEE COMPLETES SUFFRAGE VICTORY,” the New York Times blared one hundred years ago on August 19, 1920. The day before, Tennessee’s lower legislative house voted 50–46 to approve the “Susan B. Anthony” Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote across the country.

Image for post
Image for post

Women had been able to vote in American elections before. Many of the pre-revolutionary colonies permitted it, but after 1776, all except New Jersey passed constitutions barring women the vote. New Jersey followed suit in 1807.

Women could also vote starting in the late 1800s in certain territories in the west, Wyoming being the first. By the time Congress passed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment and sent it to the states, twenty states and territories had already recognized women’s right to vote. …


Or, why the federal government takes your money with nary a thank-you.

“’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes.” — Christopher Bullock, The Cobbler of Preston (1716).

Image for post
Image for post

As we settle down this July 15th (normally April 15th; you can thank COVID for the later date this year) to write out those dreaded checks (or claim your refund! Or beg for an extension!), it’s difficult to believe the income tax once didn’t exist in the United States. Or more specifically, the federal income tax once didn’t exist. …


“For black men there are neither law, justice, humanity, nor religion.”

This July 4th marks the 244th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the official notice from the thirteen colonies to Great Britain that they were now a country, and no longer royal subjects.

The Declaration’s rhetoric, penned by the team of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman, is soaring.

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.

Image for post
Image for post
The Declaration of Independence.

Seventy-six years later, on July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass stood up to give a speech to a packed house of abolitionists. “He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have,” Douglass began. “I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day.” …


“Democracy is supposed to be the highest of human aspirations and freedom a sacred human right, granted at birth. Today these must be bought with our lives.”

Today marks the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. To this day, the Chinese government actively works to erase this event from its history, and as a result, many in China, especially the younger generations, aren’t aware the protests and killings occurred. Some, however, do what little they can to keep the memory alive.

Image for post
Image for post
University students campaign for democracy in Tiananmen Square, May 1989. (Dominic Dudouble)

This year feels a little different. For the first time in 30 years, Hong Kong police refused to allow an annual Tiananmen Square vigil, held since 1990. Police cite coronavirus concerns, but citizens are incredulous. …


“His Name will be embalmed to Posterity & always mentioned with honour by every true lover of his Country.”

In celebration of Memorial Day, I re-offer to you my entry in which I remember service members in letters. At the end, I have included three tributes to veterans who have passed: to Georgia Waters (Smith), Howard Eckstein and Donald Call.

“The tires kissed the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base,” former Army Ranger Luke Ryan writes, “The plane taxied to a stop, and the jaws of the C-17’s rear door opened up to announce our arrival.” Ryan was on a special mission home, though this one would not be filled with triumph or glory. It was to deliver the body of his best friend, Sgt. …


Hucksters take advantage of a public in search of a fix.

On April 23, in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump took the lectern at the White House press conference and told reporters that he was excited about the possibilities of injecting disinfectants to rid the body of the virus. The reporters emitted a collective “huh?” while companies Clorox and Lysol scrambled to refute the idea.

And yet desperate people without the will or ability to scientifically analyze Trump’s statement already began following his advice. In response, the FDA in Trump’s own government had to warn citizens on its website:

Both sodium chlorite and chlorine dioxide are the active ingredients in disinfectants and have additional industrial uses. …

About

Noel C. Cilker

I’m a writer, interested in history’s stories and the links between then and now.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store