This is a fascinating world we live in. When you step back and look at it, something historic has happened literally every single day. Sure, some events are bigger and more important than others, but think about it…history is made every day.
In this regular blog series, we’re going to look at world history by month, with two or three blog posts each month that list momentous events in the history of the world–and inspiration for lessons that you can teach your children at home!
Time to dig into March history–here’s Part 1. Now onto Part 2!
March 11, 1918: The Spanish Flu reaches America. No one needs to be reminded that we’re still living through a pandemic, as COVID-19 has (as of this writing) reached death tolls of more than 516,000 in the United States alone and nearly 2.6 million worldwide. There is no overstating how devastating these numbers are, and it’s almost impossible to believe that there was a global pandemic that took even more lives than COVID-19 has (though this pandemic is far from over)–but there was.
In 1918, about 100 soldiers at Fort Riley, Kansas became ill…unfortunately, they were the first Americans to be diagnosed with the influenza virus that came to be known as the “Spanish Flu.” The H1N1 virus is thought to have developed in birds, but more than 100 years later no one is truly certain of its origin. What is known, however, is that this flu virus spread like wildfire, ultimately infecting approximately 500 million people–or one-third of the entire world’s population! Considering science and technology weren’t quite as advanced in 1918 as they are today, so many of these infections resulted in death. There were no vaccinations or antibiotics to prevent or treat the flu, so “treatment” was contained to non-medicinal measures, such as isolation, quarantine, improved personal hygiene, limitations of public gatherings, and the use of disinfectants (all too familiar, right?). When the pandemic was finally contained, the death tolls were grim–approximately 675,000 in the US and nearly 50 million globally. With vaccinations being administered, we can only hope that COVID-19’s numbers do not approach those of the 1918 Spanish Flu, but there are certainly a lot of similarities between the two pandemics, even though they were separated by more than 100 years. This is a good opportunity to look at modern medical advances, including the COVID-19 vaccination and how quickly it was developed as well as other recent medical cures and treatments.
March 14, 1879: Albert Einstein is born in Ulm, Germany. Widely considered the preeminent scientific mind of the twentieth century, if not of all time, Albert Einstein spent part of his childhood in Munich before moving to Italy and ultimately continuing his education in Switzerland, where he attended the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich beginning in 1896. There, young Einstein studied to become a teacher of physics and mathematics before graduating in 1901. Unable to find employment in his field of study, Albert took a position in the Swiss Patent Office while working to earn his doctorate, which he received in 1905. While working in the patent office, he produced some of the incredible work that would make him world-famous years later. Between 1909 and 1914, Einstein served as a professor in both Switzerland and Prague before accepting a position as director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Physical Institute and as a professor at the University of Berlin in 1914–the same year he would become a German citizen. He remained in Germany in these positions until 1933, when politics compelled Einstein to renounce his German citizenship and emigrate to America. Upon arriving in the United States, he served as a professor of theoretical physics at Princeton University, a position he held until his retirement in 1945.
Albert Einstein was renowned for his view of the problems of physics and his resolve to determine the answer. While studying Sir Isaac Newton’s work, Einstein identified what he considered inadequacies, which prompted his famous theory of relativity as an attempt to “reconcile the laws of mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field.” This was merely one aspect of Einstein’s scientific work, much of which has been published: Special Theory of Relativity (1905), Relativity (English translations, 1920 and 1950), General Theory of Relativity (1916), Investigations on Theory of Brownian Movement (1926), and The Evolution of Physics (1938). Albert Einstein was also critical in the development of the US atomic bomb (his well-known E=MC2 equation), as he urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to prepare one in possible retaliation to a (never-materialized) Nazi atomic bomb. Among Einstein’s many awards and honors include a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, the Copley Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1925, and the Franklin Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1935, not to mention scores of honorary doctorate degrees. Along with his scientific legacy, Albert Einstein was highly regarded for his strong denunciation of racism. As a Jew who was targeted to be killed by the Nazi Party (and also because he was a decent, accepting human being), Einstein had plenty of first-hand experience dealing with racism and nationalism and sought to protect others from prejudice and bigotry. In fact, he was a frequent activist for civil rights and maintained correspondence with important Black figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and performer Paul Robeson; he was made a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the late 1940s. Albert Einstein would pass away on April 18, 1955. Take a look at how Einstein’s revolutionary work in physics changed the world.
March 15, 44 B.C.: Julius Caesar is assassinated in Rome by Brutus and other co-conspirators. “Et tu, Brute?” Yes, unfortunately for Julius Caesar. The famous Roman worked his way through the political system before becoming governor of the Roman province of Spain somewhere around 61 or 60 BC. In 59 BC he was elected consul before being appointed as the governor of Roman Gaul in 58 BC, a position he held for eight years. It was during this time that Caesar expanded the Roman Republic to include France and Belgium while protecting Rome from potential Gallic invasions. With Pompey now in charge of Rome, he had the senate order Caesar to return to Rome as a private citizen, terminating his rule over Gaul. But Caesar did not follow these orders; rather, he crossed the Rubicon River with his army and marched toward Rome in 49 BC. As the Rubicon was a border between Gaul and Rome, this was considered an act of war. But rather than fight Caesar, Pompey fled to Spain and then Greece. Finally, he retreated to Egypt, where he was killed upon arrival by Egyptians who believed the gods favored Caesar over Pompey. Caesar was furious over Pompey’s death, so he declared martial law and took over the royal palace in Egypt. During his time there, he fathered a child with Cleopatra VII, who proclaimed her son as her heir and successor to the throne.
Around 47 BC, Caesar led his soldiers toward Rome and returned there triumphant in 46 BC. Shortly after, in 44 BC, Julius Caesar was crowned Rome’s dictator for life, and Rome prospered for years after his appointment. However, the senate feared Caesar was becoming too powerful and would dismantle the senate to rule over Rome as a king. These fears led senators Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus, and several others to assassinate Caesar, stabbing him 23 times in the portico of the basilica of Pompey the Great, where Caesar died at the feet of Pompey’s statue. Following Caesar’s death, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) worked to turn popular opinion against the assassins and ultimately defeated the forces of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. Following this victory, Antony formed an alliance with Cleopatra, which Gaius Octavius Thurinus (Octavian, Caesar’s grand-nephew) formed too large a threat to Rome. Antony and Octavian, former allies, went to war, with Octavian emerging victorious at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Following their defeat, Cleopatra and Mark Antony committed suicide, and Octavian had Cleopatra’s and Caesar’s son murdered. Octavian soon became the first emperor of Rome, and shortly after had Caesar deified, proclaimed himself a son of God, and took the name of Augustus Caesar. This marked the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. Learn more about ancient Rome, Greece, and other historical figures from that time.
March 15, 1767: Andrew Jackson is born in South Carolina. One of the most polarizing presidents in American history, Andrew Jackson grew up poor in South Carolina, raised by a single mother after his father died before Andrew was born. By the time he was 13 years old, Andrew was fighting in the Revolutionary War. He actually received a permanent scar upon being captured by the British, as he was slashed by the sword of a soldier whose boots young Andrew refused to polish. This type of toughness earned him the nickname “Old Hickory.” Shortly after his release, both Andrew’s brother and mother died, leaving him an orphan at age 14 and with much resentment toward the British. He began studying law in his late teens before beginning a successful law practice in Tennessee during the late 1780s. In 1796, Jackson was elected as a representative of Tennessee to the US House of Representatives, and the following year was selected as a senator for the state–a position he only held for eight months. Upon resigning his Senate post, Jackson became a circuit judge in Tennessee and served in that position until 1804. Just two years earlier, Andrew was designated a major general of the Tennessee militia, though he had no prior military experience. He’d soon be put to the test though.
During the War of 1812, Jackson led the US troops in a monthslong battle against the Creek Indians, who had killed several settlers in what is now Alabama. Jackson ultimately prevailed, in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, which resulted in the deaths of 800 Native Americans as well as the procurement of 20 million acres of land in what would become Georgia and Alabama. After this victory, Jackson was promoted to major general. After capturing Pensacola in Florida, Jackson led his army to New Orleans, where they battled the British in January of 1815. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the US troops were victorious in the Battle of New Orleans, the last major fighting of the War of 1812. His stock was high after his military accomplishments, and he rode the momentum to a presidential nomination from the newly formed Democratic Party in 1824; he was narrowly defeated by John Quincy Adams–only after Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who was to decide the election after no clear electoral college victor, was named by Adams as his secretary of state. Furious at the corrupt outcome, Jackson ran for president again in 1828 and coasted to a landslide victory over Adams. In becoming president, Jackson became known as the “father of the Democratic Party,” as his candidacy in the 1828 election was as a Democrat, as the Democratic-Republican Party became split after Adams’ controversial victory in 1824. Additionally, the famous donkey mascot associated with the Democratic Party today stemmed from a nickname Jackson received during his run for president.
Shortly after he took office, Jackson sought to abolish the electoral college and fill his cabinet with his own supporters (known as the “spoils system”). His first battle as president would be with the Second Bank of the US, which Jackson saw as corrupt and too powerful. His opponent in the upcoming 1832 election, Henry Clay, disagreed and passed a bill in the House to recharter the bank–Jackson vetoed the bill, an action that was favored by the public, who voted Jackson to victory again. His next foe would be…his own vice president, John Calhoun, who resigned (the first VP to do so) in late 1832 over federal tariffs. His time in office would be characterized by highly controversial decisions and acts, especially the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which essentially displaced Native Americans from their land west of the Mississippi River. He also turned the other way when Georgia, in clear violation of a treaty, took nine million acres of land that was promised to the Cherokee tribe. Jackson refused to enforce the US Supreme Court’s decision that Georgia had no authority over the land, which resulted in what is known as the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of approximately 15,000 Cherokee Indians that caused the death of about 4,000 Cherokees who died of exposure, starvation, and illness during the relocation. Jackson also supported Roger Taney (a supporter of Jackson) as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Taney presided over the Dred Scott decision, which declared that African Americans were not US citizens. Taney also ruled that the federal government could not forbid slavery.
In addition to these decisions and policies, Andrew Jackson earned the reputation as a combative man. There was never a fight he’d back away from, and he started plenty himself. Jackson apparently had an affinity for dueling, and he carried two bullets in his chest as badges of honor–one of the other men wasn’t as fortunate. However, those bullets in Jackson’s chest would come back to haunt him; on June 8, 1845, he passed away from lead poisoning caused by the two bullets. He was 78. And while he was controversial and aggressive, Andrew Jackson was also one of the more influential presidents in history, as his beliefs created long-lasting changes in politics and government. There are so many lessons to learn from Andrew Jackson’s presidency–dig deeper into why he was so vehemently opposed to the Second Bank of the United States and why he was an enemy to Native Americans…and still is to this day.
March 16, 1751: James Madison is born in Virginia. Widely known as one of the Founding Fathers, James Madison accomplished quite a bit during his lifetime. President of the United States. One of three authors of the Federalist Papers. Writer of the Bill of Rights. “Father” of the Constitution. All of this while he battled illness for much of his life. A brilliant student, Madison graduated from The College of New Jersey (Princeton University, today) and became its first graduate student. Upon graduation, he returned to Virginia, where he was elected to the state legislature in 1776. At this time, Madison came to know fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson, and they forged a friendship based partly on their advocacy of religious liberties. In 1780, Madison was chosen as a delegate (the youngest) to represent Virginia in the Continental Congress. During this time, Madison noted the lack of structure in the Articles of Confederation and declared that they weren’t strong enough to be the governing document of a new democracy. In response, Madison drafted the Virginia Plan, which proposed three branches of national government–legislative, judicial, and executive. This plan, with some alterations, was accepted largely as it was written. James Madison would also play an integral role in the creation of the Constitution. After the Constitution was drafted and awaiting ratification, Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton wrote The Federalist Papers, which encouraged citizens to ratify the new Constitution while outlining how the government would operate under it.
In 1791, Madison helped form the first political party in the country, the Democratic-Republicans, as well as its first newspaper, the National Gazette. During George Washington’s presidency, Madison served in Congress and was the principal author of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Once Thomas Jefferson was elected as president, he selected James Madison as his secretary of state, during which time he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. In 1808, Madison was elected as the fourth president of the United States. While in office, he became the first serving president to lead troops in battle, at the Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812. Madison also chartered the Second Bank of the United States, the very same bank Andrew Jackson deemed corrupt during his presidency. He retired from politics in 1816 after serving his second term as president. During retirement, he advised his friend Thomas Jefferson during the founding of the University of Virginia and served as its chancellor for 10 years, until his death in 1836. This is a great opportunity to study more about the Constitution and the pivotal role James Madison played in its creation.
March 18, 1837: Grover Cleveland is born in Caldwell, New Jersey. He wasn’t the most notable or well-known president of the United States, but Grover Cleveland can lay claim to one feat that no other president has ever accomplished. He’s the first president to be elected and serve two non-consecutive terms in office. Known as an honest (sometimes brutally so), hard-working man, Grover Cleveland made a quick rise through the political ranks, though he was already in his 40s. After working for years as a lawyer, Cleveland served as sheriff of Erie County, New York, mayor of Buffalo, and governor of New York State. He was elected the 22nd president of the United States in 1884, the first Democrat to be elected after the Civil War. He lost his re-election bid to Benjamin Harrison in 1888 but ran again in 1892 and was victorious, becoming the 24th president of the United States. During his terms in office, Cleveland was an opponent of government spending, resulting in him vetoing more bills than the 22 presidents who preceded him–combined. It’s estimated he used his veto power more than 500 times! He believed that people should support the government, but the government shouldn’t have to support the people, especially financially. He also opposed the idea that US veterans were entitled to a pension, a stance that angered many Americans. Cleveland also refused to offer financial assistance during the depression period of his second presidency (the Panic of 1893), though he did campaign to lower taxes. Among some of the notable events and accomplishments of Cleveland’s presidencies include:
- Signed the Interstate Commerce Act, a law that attempted to regulate the railroads.
- Passed the Presidential Succession Act, which determined the chain of command should a president and/or vice president become unable to lead.
- Oversaw the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886.
- Used the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which allowed him to deploy federal troops during a dispute with a train strike that interfered with the postal system–using the federal military in this situation did not sit well with much of the public.
- Indoctrinating Utah into the union.
While not the most popular or noteworthy president in history, Grover Cleveland did make history in his own way. Take a longer look at why he may have lost his re-election bid in 1888, and why he won again in 1892.
March 19, 2003: The United States launches an attack against Iraq in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power. And thus began, Operation Iraqi Freedom, what President George W. Bush called the US-led invasion or Iraq, designed to topple dictator Saddam Hussein and eliminate the country’s weapons of mass destruction. This was not an easy decision for President Bush, as many Americans opposed this new war. In only six weeks, the invasion turned into an occupation, culminating with the capture of Saddam Hussein–he would go on trial in an Iraqi court and be sentenced to death by hanging. While Bush announced that the mission had been accomplished, this wasn’t exactly the case. Violence between Iraqi factions escalated quickly, and terrorist group al-Qaeda emerged and made its presence known through suicide bombers. This phase of the war would last more than four years and result in more than 3,000 American deaths and 23,000 wounded. Iraqis would sustain approximately 50,000 civilian fatalities. Soon after his election as president, Barack Obama instituted an 18-month withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq. US forces wouldn’t be fully withdrawn until December 2011.
In January 2005, the Iraqi people elected a National Assembly as their new government body, and a new Iraqi constitution was ratified that October. Saddam Hussein would be executed for his crimes on December 30, 2006. The United States would fail in its attempt to locate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. On one hand, the mission succeeded in ridding the world of a murderous dictator and restoring a democratic government to a country in desperate need of one. On the other hand, the sought-after weapons of mass destruction were never found, and many, many Americans and Iraqis lost their lives during nearly nine years of violence. Was it worth it? Both sides of the argument have supporters and detractors. Do some more research into Operation Iraqi Freedom and discuss why this was such a divisive war.
That does it for the second of three parts of historical figures and events for March. Stay tuned for the last part, coming soon! In the meantime, check out our partner site, Elephango.com, for more fun and factual lessons!