General Washington Resigns

James Tilton wrote to Gunning Bedford, from Annapolis, on Christmas day:

“The General came to town last friday, and announced his arrival, by a letter to congress, requesting to know, in what manner they chused he should resign his authority; whether by private letter or public audience? The latter was preferred without hesitation. Some etiquette being settled on saturday, a public dinner was ordered on monday and the audience to be on tuesday. The feast on monday was the most extraordinary I ever attended. Between 2 and 3 hundred Gentn: dined together in the ball-room . The number of cheerful voices,, with the clangor of knives and forks made a din of a very extraordinary nature and most delightful influence. Every man seemed to be in heaven or so absored in the pleasures of imagination, as to neglect the more sordid appetites, for not a soul got drunk, though there was wine in plenty and the usual number of 13 toasts drank, besides one given afterwards by the General which you ought to be acquainted with: it is as follows. ‘Competent powers to congress for general purposes.’

“In the evening of the same day, the Governor gave a ball at the State House. To light the rooms every window was illuminated. Here the company was equally numerous, and more brilliant, consisting of ladies and Gentn: Such was my villanous awkwardness, that I could not venture to dance on this occasion, you must therefore annex to it a cleverer Idea, than is to be expected from such a mortified whelp as I am. The General danced every set, that all the ladies might have the pleasure of dancing with him, or as it has since been handsomely expressed, get a touch of him .

“Tuesday morning, Congress met, and took their seats in order, all covered. At twelve o’clock the General was introduced by the Secretary, and seated opposite to the president, until the throng, that filled all the avenues, were so disposed of so as to behold the solemnity. The ladies occupied the gallery as full as it would hold, the Gentn: crouded below stairs. Silence ordered, by the Secretary, the Genl. rose and bowed to congress, who uncovered, but did not bow. He then delivered his speech, and at the close of it drew his commission from his bosem and handed it to the president. The president replied in a set speech, the General bowed again to Congress, they uncovered and the General retired. After a little pause until the company withdrew, Congress adjourned. The General then steped into the room again, bid every member farewell and rode off from the door, intent upon eating his christmas dinner at home. Many of the spectators, particularly the fair ones shed tears, on this solemn and affecting occasion. Sir Robert Eden and Mr. William Harford attended very respectfully. They were also at the public dinner and the dance.”

From the text of the original kindly furnished by Guy Stonestreet, of New York City.

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, Edited by John C. Fitzpatrick (1931-44) Vol. 27

Anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase

In a ceremony on Dec. 20, 1803, the French turned Louisiana over to the United States at The Cabildo which was the seat of colonial government in New Orleans. By a treaty signed on Apr. 30, 1803, the United States purchased from France the Louisiana Territory, more than 2 million sq km (800,000 sq mi) of land extending from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, which doubled America’s size. The price was 60 million francs, about $15 million; $11,250,000 was to be paid directly, with the balance to be covered by the assumption by the United States of French debts to American citizens.

In 1762, France had ceded Louisiana to Spain, but by the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso (1800) the French had regained the area. Napoleon Bonaparte (the future Emperor Napoleon I) envisioned a great French empire in the New World, and he hoped to use the Mississippi Valley as a food and trade center to supply the island of Hispaniola, which was to be the heart of this empire. First, however, he had to restore French control of Hispaniola, where Haitian slaves under TOUSSAINT L’OUVERTURE had seized power (1801; see HAITI). In 1802 a large army sent by Napoleon under his brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc, arrived on the island to suppress the Haitian rebellion. Despite some military success, the French lost thousands of soldiers, mainly to yellow fever, and Napoleon soon realized that Hispaniola must be abandoned. Without that island he had little use for Louisiana. Facing renewed war with Great Britain, he could not spare troops to defend the territory; he needed funds, moreover, to support his military ventures in Europe. Accordingly, in April 1803 he offered to sell Louisiana to the United States.

An enormous tract of land was now open to settlement, and the free navigation of the Mississippi was assured. Although the Constitution did not specifically empower the federal government to acquire new territory by treaty, Jefferson concluded that the practical benefits to the nation far outweighed the possible violation of the Constitution. The Senate concurred with this decision and voted ratification on Oct. 20, 1803. The Spanish, who had never given up physical possession of Louisiana to the French, reluctantly did so in an earlier ceremony at New Orleans on Nov. 30, 1803.

Happy Bill of Rights Day

Today is Bill of Rights Day. To Americans, the Bill of Rights are key amendments to the U.S. Constitution, that protect our individual rights.

On March 4, 1789, the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified by the (former) 13 colonies, and went into effect. States and individuals were concerned that the Constitution did not properly cover and protect a number of natural rights of individuals. The Constitution was signed by the original 13 states with the requirement, or understanding, that a Bill of Rights would be created, amending the new U.S. Constitution.

On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the Constitution. 10 of these amendments were added to the Constitution on December 15, 1791.
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Remembering the USS West Virginia

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the USS West Virginia (BB-48) lay moored outboard of Tennessee (BB-43) at berth F-6 with 40 feet of water beneath her keel. Shortly before 0800, Japanese planes, flying from a six-carrier task force, commenced their well-planned attack on the Fleet at Pearl Harbor. West Virginia took five 18-inch aircraft torpedoes in her port side and two bomb hits those bombs being 15-inch armor-piercing shells fitted with fins. The first bomb penetrated the superstructure deck, wrecking the port casemates and causing that deck to collapse to the level of the galley deck below. Four casemates and the galley caught fire immediately, with the subsequent detonation of the ready-service projectiles stowed in the casemates.

The second bomb hit further aft, wrecking one Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane atop the “high” catapult on Turret III and pitching the second one on her top on the main deck below. The projectile penetrated the 4-inch turret roof, wrecking one gun in the turret itself. Although the bomb proved a dud, burning gasoline from the damaged aircraft caused some damage.

The torpedoes, though, ripped into the ship’s port side; only prompt action by Lt. Claude V. Ricketts, the assistant fire control officer who had some knowledge of damage control techniques, saved the ship from the fate that befell Oklahoma (BB-37) moored ahead. She, too, took torpedo hits that flooded the ship and caused her to capsize.

Instances of heroic conduct on board the heavily damaged battleship proliferated in the heat of battle. The ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, arrived on his bridge early in the battle, only to be struck down by a bomb fragment hurled in his direction when a 15-inch “bomb” hit the center gun in Tennessee’s Turret II, spraying that ship’s superstructure and West Virginia’s with fragments. Bennion, hit in the abdomen, crumpled to the deck, mortally wounded, but clung tenaciously to life until just before the ship was abandoned, involved in the conduct of the ship’s defense up to the last moment of his life. For his conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, Capt. Bennion was awarded a Medal of Honor, posthumously.

West Virginia was abandoned, settling to the harbor bottom on an even keel, her fires fought from on board by a party that volunteered to return to the ship after the first abandonment. By the afternoon of the following day, December 8, the flames had been extinguished. The garbage lighter, YG-17, played an important role in assisting those efforts during the Pearl Harbor attack, remaining in position alongside despite the danger posed by exploding ammunition on board the battleship.

Later examination revealed that West Virginia had taken not five, but six, torpedo hits. With a patch over the damaged area of her hull, the battleship was pumped out and ultimately refloated on May 17, 1942. Docked in Drydock Number One on 9 June, West Virginia again came under scrutiny, and it was discovered that there had been not six, but seven torpedo hits.

During the ensuing repairs, workers located 70 bodies of West Virginia sailors who had been trapped below when the ship sank. In one compartment, a calendar was found, the last scratch-off date being December 23. The task confronting the nucleus crew and shipyard workers was a monumental one, so great was the damage on the battleship’s port side. Ultimately, however, West Virginia departed Pearl Harbor for the west coast and a complete rebuilding at the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash.

The USS West Virginia was commissioned on December 1, 1923, under command of Capt. Thomas J. Senn. This was the last American Battleship to be launched prior to the restrictions imposed by the 1922 Washington Conference on Limitation of Naval Armament. For the complete history of this historic vessel, visit www.usswestvirginia.org