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Historical Happenings in December 2023


With only a few weeks left in 2023, there’s “snow” time like the “present” to “sleigh” the rest of the semester! We have free resources and activities to help you do just that as you teach your students about these monumental moments in December. It’s our gift to you this Holiday season!

History at a Glance:



December 6, 1865: Ratification of the 13th Amendment


Slavery in the United States was officially abolished with the passage of the 13th Amendment, which read, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."[1]


This monumental moment came a few months after the conclusion of the Civil War, but the process of ending slavery had been in motion years prior. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring “that all persons held as slaves [within the Confederacy] are, and henceforward shall be free.”[2] However, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery everywhere in the United States; it only abolished slavery in states still in rebellion against the Union. The Confederate states that the Union conquered and controlled were exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation, as were border states loyal to the Union.[3]


Recognizing that the Emancipation Proclamation was not enough to end slavery nationwide and that an amendment to the Constitution was necessary to do so, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Representative James Ashley of Ohio publicly supported an abolition amendment in 1863. In 1864, Senator Sumner proposed a constitutional amendment that called for “equality before the law.” Deemed too “radical” by his fellow senators, Senator Sumner’s proposal was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversaw the drafting of an amendment. The committee brought their proposed amendment before the Senate on February 10, 1864.[4]


After debating the amendment for almost two months, the Senate passed it on April 8, 1864, with a vote of 38 to 6.[5] The amendment then went to the House of Representatives, where it was initially rejected. It didn’t pass in the House of Representatives until January 31, 1865.[6]


President Lincoln passed the Joint Resolution of Congress on February 1, 1865. Now, it was up to the states to ratify the 13th Amendment. For it to go into effect and become law, it needed three-fourths of the states to vote in favor of it, making that a total of 27 of the 36 states.[7] Delaware, New Jersey, Kentucky, and Mississippi rejected it. However, former Confederate states South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia (the last necessary vote) ratified it.[8] The 13th Amendment was then able to go into effect, thereby abolishing slavery in the U.S.


Teacher Resources:



December 7, 1941: Attack on Pearl Harbor


In a matter of only one hour and 15 minutes, the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor (near Honolulu), Hawaii, was attacked by Japan, and war was deemed inevitable.[9] Although the Pearl Harbor attack was unforeseen, the conflict between the U.S. and Japan had been escalating for years. After Japan declared war on China in 1937, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions and trade embargoes on Japan to curtail the nation’s economic expansion efforts. Steps towards negotiation between the U.S. and Japan were futile, and war appeared imminent.[10]


On November 5, 1941, the Japanese government ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was planned by Japan’s commander in chief of the combined fleet, Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku.[11] Japan planned to decimate the U.S.’s naval and aircraft fleets in the Pacific so that Japan could expand throughout the South Pacific without interference from the U.S.[12]


At 7:55 a.m. on December 7, the attack began with a single Japanese dive-bomber,[13] soon followed by over 300 aircraft and dozens of naval vessels.[14] Dozens of airplanes kept at Naval Air Station on Ford Island, Wheeler Field, and Hickam Field were destroyed and badly damaged. Simultaneously, the fleet of battleships was being torpedoed and bombed. A second wave of assault began with more ships being targeted for ten minutes before the Japanese military withdrew their troops.[15]


The USS Arizona was destroyed and sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Approximately 20 ships and 300 airplanes were either damaged or destroyed. Despite the damage, the U.S. Navy was able to bounce back because their aircraft carriers (not the battleships, which were attacked) were their most important vessels, and none of them were at Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack. Additionally, the oil storage depots, repair stations, shipyards, and docks for submarines were undamaged.[16] Unfortunately, however, over 2,400 U.S. personnel and 68 civilians were killed during the attack.[17]


On the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to approve a declaration of war on Japan. In his speech during Congress’ joint session, President Roosevelt said,

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.”

Congress approved the declaration of war, thus entering the U.S. into World War II. Germany and Italy (Japan’s allies) retaliated by declaring war on the U.S. on December 11.[18]


Learn more about U.S. soldiers during World War II in our new Starved for Books, available for presale and in our collection of World War II titles.


The USS Arizona Memorial honors the lives that were lost aboard the USS Arizona and in Pearl Harbor during the attack on December 7, 1941.

Teacher Resources:



December 17, 1903: Orville and Wilbur Wright’s First Flight


Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright soared to new heights in the first powered airplane over the dunes in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. Their successful first flight was the culmination of four years of research and testing to develop the Wright Flyer, also known as the Kitty Hawk Flyer.[19]


Their journey to creating the first powered aircraft began when they were young. Their father, Milton Wright, gifted them a model helicopter toy in 1878. With his present, Milton planted the idea of flying in his sons’ minds.[20]


Before they took to building and flying airplanes, the Wright brothers were already entrepreneurs and innovators. They owned the West Side News (a local newspaper) and a bicycle repair shop.[21] There, they manufactured bicycles and were always looking for ways to improve them.[22] Their understanding of the mechanics behind bikes and their inventive spirit helped them as they turned their attention to aviation in 1896 when they began researching aeronautics.


By 1899, they had built their first biplane kite, which they used to test a control system. The kite’s test flight was successful, meaning their wing warping control system worked. The brothers then built a glider in 1900 and traveled from their hometown of Dayton, Ohio, to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to test it. A year later, they built a wind tunnel, which they used to inform the design of their second glider. The results from the wind tunnel helped them make the third glider in 1902.[23] It was a huge success!


Orville Wright (piloting the glider), Wilbur Wright, and Dan Tate test their glider on October 10, 1902, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

After performing approximately 700-1,000 test glides, Orville and Wilbur were ready to begin constructing a powered airplane in 1903. Charles Taylor, the mechanic in their bicycle shop, helped the brothers build an engine. They also added two propellers, which were designed as rotary wings.[24]


Finally, the Wright Flyer was ready for testing. Wilbur first tested the flyer on December 14, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, but the test flight was unsuccessful and resulted in the flyer needing some repairs. After making the necessary adjustments, they were ready to try again a few days later.


They launched their powered airplane on December 17, 1903, making it the first airplane flight! Orville was at the helm of the Wright Flyer during the first flight, which was 12 seconds long and covered a distance of 180 feet. The brothers took turns flying the plane for a total of four test flights, with Wilbur flying the last and most successful flight of the day, traveling a length of 852 feet in 59 seconds.[25]


Following the last flight of the day, a gust of wind knocked the Wright Flyer over and damaged it. The damaged flyer was returned to Ohio and tucked away in a shed behind the Wright brothers’ bicycle shop. It remained in crates until 1916 when it was repaired and displayed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a brief period.[26]


During the following years, it was displayed in various exhibitions, including the Science Museum in London. While there, it was moved underground to protect it from bombing during World War II. After the war ended, the Wright Flyer was brought back to the U.S. in 1948 and presented to the Smithsonian Institution on December 17 to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ successful flight. Today, this priceless artifact can be viewed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.[27]


Learn more about the Wright brothers and let your imagination soar with our aviation titles, including The Mystery at Kill Devil Hills and its corresponding free Teacher’s Guide!


Teacher Resources:



For more historical tidbits, lesson plan ideas, and free activities, follow us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram. Also, check out our other blogs for even more resources!


 

Sources:


[1] “13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865).” National Archives, 10 May 2022, https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/13th-amendment#:~:text=Passed%20by%20Congress%20on%20January,slavery%20in%20the%20United%20States.. Accessed 21 November 2023.

[2] “Emancipation Proclamation (1863).” The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/emancipation-proclamation. Accessed 1 December 2022.

[3] “Emancipation Proclamation.” HISTORY, 26 January 2022, https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/emancipation-proclamation. Accessed 20 December 2022.

[4] “The Senate Passes the Thirteenth Amendment.” United States Senate, https://www.senate.gov/about/origins-foundations/senate-and-constitution/senate-passes-the-thirteenth-amendment.htm. Accessed 28 November 2023.

[5] “The Senate Passes the Thirteenth Amendment.” United States Senate, https://www.senate.gov/about/origins-foundations/senate-and-constitution/senate-passes-the-thirteenth-amendment.htm. Accessed 28 November 2023.

[6] NCC Staff. “On this day: The United States formally outlaws slavery.” Constitution Center, 6 December 2019, https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/on-this-day-the-united-states-formally-outlaws-slavery. Accessed 21 November 2023.

[7] “13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865).” National Archives, 10 May 2022, https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/13th-amendment#:~:text=Passed%20by%20Congress%20on%20January,slavery%20in%20the%20United%20States.. Accessed 21 November 2023.

[8] NCC Staff. “On this day: The United States formally outlaws slavery.” Constitution Center, 6 December 2019, https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/on-this-day-the-united-states-formally-outlaws-slavery. Accessed 21 November 2023.

[9] “Remembering Pearl Harbor: A Pearl Harbor Fact Sheet.” The National WWII Museum, https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/pearl-harbor-fact-sheet-1.pdf. Accessed 4 December 2023.

[10] History.com Editors. “Pearl Harbor.” HISTORY, 6 December 2022, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor. Accessed 22 November 2023.

[11] Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Pearl Harbor attack". Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Oct. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/event/Pearl-Harbor-attack. Accessed 21 November 2023.

[12] History.com Editors. “Pearl Harbor.” HISTORY, 6 December 2022, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor. Accessed 22 November 2023.

[13] Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Pearl Harbor attack". Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Oct. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/event/Pearl-Harbor-attack. Accessed 21 November 2023.

[14] “Remembering Pearl Harbor: A Pearl Harbor Fact Sheet.” The National WWII Museum, https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/pearl-harbor-fact-sheet-1.pdf. Accessed 4 December 2023.

[15] Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Pearl Harbor attack". Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Oct. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/event/Pearl-Harbor-attack. Accessed 21 November 2023.

[16] History.com Editors. “Pearl Harbor.” HISTORY, 6 December 2022, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor. Accessed 22 November 2023.

[17] “Remembering Pearl Harbor: A Pearl Harbor Fact Sheet.” The National WWII Museum, https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/pearl-harbor-fact-sheet-1.pdf. Accessed 4 December 2023.

[18] History.com Editors. “Pearl Harbor.” HISTORY, 6 December 2022, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor. Accessed 22 November 2023.

[19] “1903 Wright Flyer.” National Air and Space Museum. https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/1903-wright-flyer/nasm_A19610048000. Accessed 28 November 2023.

[20] “A look back at the Wright brothers’ first flight.” Space Center Houston, 18 December 2019, https://spacecenter.org/a-look-back-at-the-wright-brothers-first-flight/#:~:text=On%20Dec.,that%20human%20flight%20was%20possible. Accessed 28 November 2023.

[21] “A look back at the Wright brothers’ first flight.” Space Center Houston, 18 December 2019, https://spacecenter.org/a-look-back-at-the-wright-brothers-first-flight/#:~:text=On%20Dec.,that%20human%20flight%20was%20possible. Accessed 28 November 2023.

[22] “Wright Bicycles.” Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, https://www.wright-brothers.org/Information_Desk/Just_the_Facts/Bicycles/Wright_Bicycles.htm. Accessed 9 August 2023.

[23] “1903 Wright Flyer.” National Air and Space Museum. https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/1903-wright-flyer/nasm_A19610048000. Accessed 28 November 2023.

[24] “1903 Wright Flyer.” National Air and Space Museum. https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/1903-wright-flyer/nasm_A19610048000. Accessed 28 November 2023.

[25] “1903 Wright Flyer.” National Air and Space Museum | Smithsonian, https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/1903-wright-flyer/nasm_A19610048000. Accessed 10 August 2023.

[26] “1903 Wright Flyer.” National Air and Space Museum. https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/1903-wright-flyer/nasm_A19610048000. Accessed 28 November 2023.

[27] “1903 Wright Flyer.” National Air and Space Museum. https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/1903-wright-flyer/nasm_A19610048000. Accessed 28 November 2023.


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