This Week in History: Dec. 4-8

On Dec. 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, officially abolishing slavery in America on a federal level.  (Kim Davies/Flickr Creative Commons)

On Dec. 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, officially abolishing slavery in America on a federal level.  (Kim Davies/Flickr Creative Commons)

This week we celebrate the anniversaries of three major events that greatly shaped history and the world around us. Here is a quick summary of this week in history.

On Dec. 5, 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in Paris to prepare his forces for the invasion of England and conquest of Europe. Napoleon was able to assimilate power after the French Revolution and proclaim himself Emperor of France with the dream of having control over all of Europe and Asia. His military efforts were incredibly effective on the ground with practically no one being able to stop him in open battle. However, he was less successful in his campaign on the water.

Unable to invade England without the support of a strong navy, Napoleon's admirals were forced to face off repeatedly with the British hero Horatio Nelson. Considered a naval genius, Nelson was able to beat Napoleon's forces again and again. In the Battle of the Nile in 1798, the British fleet completely crippled and decimated the French Navy by trapping them in a crossfire and destroying their ships.

Napoleon’s admirals had another chance at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 off the coast of Spain. The British fleet was again lead by Admiral Nelson who was injured in the beginning of the battle by a French sharpshooter. Nelson was taken below decks of his ship the HMS Victory and continued to direct his forces while his doctors operated on him. After an intense battle the British proved victorious. Trafalgar was incredibly important as it prevented the French from invading England and put the British squarely as the major naval world power. Tragically, Horatio Nelson died from his injuries after the battle and was accorded a state funeral back home. To commemorate his efforts, Nelson’s Column sits today in Trafalgar Square in London.

On Dec. 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, officially abolishing slavery in America on a federal level. One of the major laws passed after the Civil War in the interest of healing the scarred nation, the Civil War Amendments greatly expanded the rights of the recently freed slaves. The 14th Amendment granted citizenship status to all previous slaves, while the 15th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote for all citizens of America, making it illegal to disenfranchise anyone based on a single factor.

Lastly, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese air forces attacked American naval ships docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The surprise attack was devastating with over two thousand American servicemen killed and four major vessels sunken. The attack shocked the American public, and it lead President Roosevelt to say Dec. 7 was “a date which will live in infamy” and declare war on Japan. On Dec. 11, Congress would declare war on Germany and Italy as well. This would mark America’s full entrance into World War II, which did not end until 1945. Three of the four ships that had been sunk would be raised and reused in the war efforts with only the USS Arizona remaining below water. Additionally, since the attack did not come under a declaration of war and without any warning, it would be labelled a war crime at the Tokyo Trials in 1946. Pearl Harbor completely mobilized the American public and had the exact opposite effect intended by Japanese leaders. As Admiral Yamamoto claimed in the 1970 movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” at the conclusion of the attack, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”


Seamus McKeever is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at seamus.mckeever@uconn.edu.