Inclined at Various Angles~February 1859~13th to 28th

Inclined at Various Angles ~ H. D. Thoreau

Thoreau admires winter’s wonders. American politics grow increasingly confrontational. Economic issues, including slavery, are ever more divisive. A member of Congress kills his wife’s lover; the murder and legal proceedings will make news for weeks to come. Politics are boiling in Mexico and in Britain. French imperialism reaches southeast Asia. A chess prodigy reaches fame. A book of translations of old poetry does not initially sell well.

February 13– Sunday– New York City– “The Charleston Mercury, upon the question of a protective tariff, says: ‘We trust that the members of Congress from the South will stand firm, and will rule out of all political or party association every man and any wing which may join the black republicans in this flagrant device of sectional plunder.’ The same warning authority further remarks that, ‘already Southern Presidential aspirants, with their retainers and followers, have sought to sustain and keep in affiliation the traitor [Senator Stephen] Douglas and his Northern clan,’ but that, protective tariff men included, ‘we trust the State Rights men in Congress will repudiate such allies, and purge the party of their corrupting presence and association.’ This demand for mere ‘purging’ when the party has already been purged to the verge of the grave, is a very severe one. The party wants a tonic. [The acquisition of] Cuba will do; and even an incidental protective revenue tariff may strengthen the backbone of the party. In default of these specifics, it must be turned over to the undertaker. We agree with our Charleston contemporary however, upon the main point ‘that when the party has ceased to be true to its principles, whatever they may be, it were better that it ceased to exist.’” ~ New York Herald.

February 13– Sunday– Hampstead, England– Eliza Acton, poet and one of the foremost women to publish cookbooks in the 19th century, dies eight weeks before her 60th birthday. Her most famous book is Modern Cookery for Private Families, first published in 1845.

February 14–Monday– Washington, D.C.– Oregon joins the Union as the 33rd state and a free state. However, while the state constitution bans slavery, it also limits citizenship to white people and bans free black people from settling.

February 14– Monday– near Galesburg, Illinois– Birth of George Washington Ferris, son of George Washington and Martha Hyde Ferris. [He will graduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and have a successful career as an engineer, achieving fame for inventing the amusement ride, the Ferris Wheel. He will die of typhoid fever on November 22, 1896.]

George Washington Ferris

George Washington Ferris

February 14– Monday– London, England– Birth of Henry Valentine Knaggs. He will become a prominent physician, advocate of “nature cure methods” and author of 37 books about healthy living. [Dies July 11, 1954.]

February 15– Tuesday– Indianapolis, Indiana– “A collision occurred in the Senate this morning between Senators Gooding and Heffron, in consequence of some personal remarks made by both in the Senate some days ago. During the fight a brother of Gooding interfered and struck Heffron on the head with a cane, wounding him severely. Otherwise little damage was done to either party. Both were armed, but had no opportunity to use their weapons. The excitement in the Senate during the difficulty was intense.” ~ report from a correspondent of the New York Times.

February 15– Tuesday– London, England– The bookseller Bernard Quarich [1819 – 1899] first publishes the translation of the poetry of an eleventh century Persian writer under the title The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam of Naishapur [1048 –1131], translated by the British poet Edward Fitzgerald [1809 – 1883]. Quarich prints two hundred copies, priced at five shillings each. However, sales are so poor that he ends up selling them on the stall outside his Leicester Square shop for a penny a piece. [Five shillings equaled $4.90 U S in 1859 and 1 British penny equaled 2cents U S at the time.]

Edward FitzGerald

Edward FitzGerald

February 16– Wednesday– Centre County, Pennsylvania– The Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania formally opens its doors. [Under Lincoln’s program to establish land grant colleges, it will become Penn State University.]

February 17– Thursday– New York City– “[Francis] Lieber’s address tonight . . . was the best of the four. Embodied much thought and clever illustration. Unlike the others, it was not delivered from manuscript.” ~ Diary of George Templeton Strong. [German-born Francis Lieber (1800 – 1872) is a jurist, political scientist, educator and author. In 1857, with the aid of Strong and others, Lieber acquired a teaching position at Columbia. He will serve as a legal consultant to the Lincoln Administration during the Civil War.]

Francis Lieber

Francis Lieber

February 17– Thursday– Washington, D. C.– In one of the most glamorous social events of the season, high society hosts a grand ball at Willard’s Hotel in honor of Lord Francis and Lady Anne Jane Napier, the retiring British ambassador and his wife. The presence of many from the Buchanan Administration, the Congress and the military constitutes a sure sign of the general American satisfaction with the service of the popular Napier. A career diplomat, age 39 at this time, Napier has served here only since 1857 and leaves to take a post as Her Majesty’s minister to the Netherlands. In his short stay he has charmed Americans and is considered the best British envoy since American independence.

Francis Napier, Her Majesty's Minister to the United States

Francis Napier, Her Majesty’s Minister to the United States

February 17– Thursday– Rome, Italy– The premiere of Guiseppe Verdi’s opera The Masked Ball takes place at the Teatro Apollo. The story of assassination and intrigue was originally set in Stockholm, Sweden, but Italian nervousness over political murder prompts the opera’s setting to be described as seventeenth century Boston, Massachusetts.

February 17– Thursday– Saigon, Vietnam– With the stated aim of protecting Vietnamese adherents to the Catholic faith, French army and naval forces, supported by some Spanish troops, capture the city.

February 18– Friday– Boston, Massachusetts– “Oregon, with its tyrannical constitution, outlawing all free colored persons, was admitted to the Union on Saturday last, by a vote of 114 to 103 in the House of Representatives– Comins and Thayer, of this State, voting in the affirmative!” ~ The Liberator

February 18– Friday– New York City– “The bark Ottawa sailed yesterday [from Mobile, Alabama], ostensibly for St. Thomas, but it is believed that her destination is the southern coast of Africa [to engage in illegal international slave trade].” ~ New York Times.

February 18– Friday– Washington, D.C.– President Buchanan seeks authority from Congress to send U.S. ground and naval units to protect the transit of American citizens and trade across the isthmus of Panama. Since the discovery of gold in California a decade ago, this area has become increasingly important as a short-cut to the west coast ports of California.

February 19– Saturday– Wik Castle, Sweden– Birth of Svante August Arrhenius, who will win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903. [Dies October 2, 1927.]

February 20– Sunday– outside Havana, Cuba– “On the plantations the slaves of both sexes wear hardly clothes enough to make them appear decently. The intense heat of the summer to those exposed to field labor is the excuse given for this, and all the clothing a . . . congo Negro desires to wear in the field is a broad palm leaf hat.” ~ Diary of American businessman Joseph Dimock.

February 21– Monday– New York City– “The general feeling among the best informed is, that the Liberal cause is lost forever, and the supremacy of France and England established in Mexico, unless the Government of the United States acts immediately. Nineteen-twentieths of the people are with the Liberals, but they are without the capital, and have no arms and ammunition to make their power effectual. It is believed fully that a recognition by the United States would give the Liberal Government moral support, such as would lead England immediately to abandon her intervention for the Church Party. In the even that Liberals would have little difficulty in disposing of Miramon, and the only remaining trouble would be in shaking off the influences of France and Spain.” ~ New York Times.

February 22– Tuesday– Hannibal, Missouri– The 207-mile Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad providing service to the western part of the state at St. Joseph commences operations today. It is the first railroad completed in the state.

February 22– Tuesday– Paris, France– Americans host a ball in honor of the birthday of George Washington.

February 23– Wednesday– Concord, Massachusetts– “Walk to Quinsigamond Pond, where was good skating yesterday, but this very pleasant and warm day it is suddenly quite too soft. I was just saying to Blake that I should look for hard ice in the shade, or [on the] north side, of some wooded hill close to the shore, though skating was out of the question elsewhere, when, looking up, I saw a gentleman and lady very gracefully gyrating and, as it were, curtseying to each other in a small bay under such a hill on the opposite shore of the pond. Intervening bushes and shore concealed the ice, so that their swift and graceful motions, their bodies inclined at various angles as they gyrated forward and backward about a small space, looking as if they would hit each other, reminded me of the circling of two winged insects in the air, or hawks receding and approaching.” ~ Journal of H. D. Thoreau.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

February 24– Thursday– Philadelphia, Pennsylvania– The American Sunday School Union, founded in1824, concludes its three-day convention with several hundred Sunday school teachers from around the country in attendance.

February 24– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– President James Buchanan vetoes a bill passed by Congress which provided for “donating public lands to the several States and Territories which may provide colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanical arts.” Buchanan questions the constitutionality of the measure as well as the effect of such a transfer of public land on future development within the states. [A similar act will be passed and signed into law during the Lincoln administration.]

February 25– Friday– Boston, Massachusetts–Today’s Liberator carries a letter from Susan B Anthony urging readers to petition their state legislatures to enact protection for fugitive slaves. She calls upon them to remember that “one half of the slave victims are women.”

Susan B Anthony

Susan B Anthony

February 25– Friday– Keokuk County, Iowa– Birth of John Burke, who will serve as governor of North Dakota (1907 to 1913) and U S Treasury Secretary (1913 to 1921). [He will die May 14, 1937.]

February 25– Friday– San Francisco, California– “The lamentable frequency of Senatorial brawls and Representative street-fights in these days is a matter worthy of the serious attention of the people of the United States. My thoughts are led in this direction by the account, taken from an Eastern paper, in the Bulletin of 23rd February, of the recent misunderstanding in the Senate between Mr. [Stephen A] Douglas [of Illinois] on the one side, and Messrs [Graham] Fitch [of Indiana] and [Jefferson] Davis [of Mississippi] on the other. The very words of the article which I speak of are sufficiently indicative of the indifference with which these things have come to be regarded by the people at large. Mr. Douglas, a Senator of the United States, in the hall of that formerly dignified body, is represented as ‘pitching into’ the Postmasters of Illinois, and Senator Fitch as giving the lie direct to his assertions, while Mr. Davis uses language for which he afterwards deems fit to apologize. Such things are beneath the dignity of men anywhere, to say nothing of Senators in the Senate Chamber. The members of the House are not a whit behind their leaders in the display of their unmanly jealousies, and in their ardent attempts at imitation, are in imminent danger of cutting their throats, like the monkey in the fable when he tried to shave. The worst of it is, that now these disgraceful scenes have become so common, they attract no attention, not even contempt. But notwithstanding our indifference, nothing is looked upon with greater satisfaction in Europe than such unworthy exhibitions of our belligerent propensities.” ~ editorial comment in the San Francisco Evening Bulletin.

February 26– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– “I, James Buchanan, President of the United States, do issue this my proclamation, declaring that an extraordinary occasion requires the Senate of the United States to convene for the transaction of business at the Capitol, in the city of Washington, on the 4th day of next month, at 12 o’clock at noon of that day, of which all who shall then be entitled to act as members of that body are hereby required to take notice.”

February 26– Saturday– Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada– Birth of Basil King. After a career as a clergyman, he will turn to writing novels and books, publishing 24 volumes between 1900 and 1927. [Dies June 22, 1928.]

February 26– Saturday– London, England– American Paul Morphy, age 21, begins a chess match against Augustus Mongredien, age 52, an English merchant and chess master. The first game is a draw. Morphy wins the next seven in a row. [Morphy emerged as a child chess prodigy at age 12. He speaks French, Spanish and German as well as English. However, after 1864 he will play less and less often and not all after 1869. He will live quietly and unmarried in New Orleans, enjoying his family’s wealth, until his own death at age 47 in July, 1884.]

February 27– Sunday– Washington, D.C.–In Lafayette Park, Congressman Daniel Sickles of New York shoots and kills Philip Barton Key, the well-liked district attorney for the District of Columbia and son of Francis Scott Key, for having an affair with his wife. [Sickles, age 33 at this time, is a lawyer and politician. His attractive wife Theresa is 23. He accused her of having an affair with Key, a 40 year old widower and popular with fashionable women. Sickles himself had an affair with a prostitute whom he took to Europe while Theresa was pregnant. Sickles will be found not guilty of Key’s murder by reason of temporary insanity. He will lose his right leg at the battle of Gettysburg in 1863 and will live until May 3, 1914.]

Sickles murders Key

Sickles murders Key

February 27– Sunday– Memphis, Tennessee– “We have received the Santa Fe Gazette of the 29th ult., from which we take the following items: ‘We are proud to announce that the House of Representatives of the Territorial Legislature of New Mexico yesterday passed, with but one dissenting voice, a very stringent bill providing for the protection of property in slaves in the Territory, which was sent to the Senate, where it will pass by a like very large majority.’ Let the statesmen and politicians of the Union, North and South, stick a pin there!”~ Memphis Appeal

February 27– Sunday– Mississippi River below Baton Rouge, Louisiana– The fully loaded steamboat Princess had just left the city, headed downstream to New Orleans, when its boilers blow up and the vessel quickly sinks. Nearby steamboats and other craft pick up survivors but approximately seventy passengers are killed, drowned, or will later die of their injuries.

February 28– Monday– Little Rock, Arkansas– The state legislature passes a measure requiring that all free black people in the state choose between enslavement or exile. The law requires that free black people either leave the state or if they still remain after the stated period of grace, they will be subject to arrest and will be sold at a slave auction. Slaves constitute 25% of the state’s total population while “free people of color” total less than 1% of the total population.

February 28– Monday– London, England– In the House of Commons, 54 year old Benjamin Disraeli introduces plans for the moderate reform of the parliamentary franchise in Britain. The bill would extend the right to vote and redistribute seats in parliament, largely in favor of the Conservatives. [However, the measure is doomed to failure as Conservatives themselves are divided on the measure and opposition Liberals and Radicals remain too strong for such a partisan bill to prevail. When it ultimately is voted down, the Conservative Government will resign. A modest expansion of the franchise will come in 1867.]

February 28– Monday– Thusis, Switzerland– Birth of Florian Cajori, historian of mathematics. [Dies August 15, 1930.]

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