This Day in History: March 2

1807: Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves: The foundation of the U.S. brought some cognitive dissonance on the issue of slavery. Foundational texts of the Republic like the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that “All men are created equal,” while many of the signers of the document owned slaves. Slavery was deeply embedded in the American economy while many of the founders had moral reservations about the institution. As such, legislators sought to limit slavery in certain ways while keeping it intact as a whole. Congress passed the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves in 1807, which banned slave trade from other countries, but the slave trade within the U.S. was thriving for the next 50 or so years.

1836: Texas Revolution: Mexico once stretched far into what is now the U.S. The 1830s saw American settlers pouring into the Mexican province of Tejas, and this lead to cultural clashes with the Mexican government and conflict over increasing centralization of the government. Another divisive factor was Mexico’s banning of slavery, and many Texas settlers objected to the ban. Texas declared itself an independent republic, and 10 years later was annexed by the U.S.

1859: Great Slave Auction: Though the importation of slaves was banned over 50 years earlier, slavery was still big business. Agriculture in the South depended on it, and society came up with every possible justification for the continuity of the institution. Pearce Mease Butler held this auction within a few miles of Savannah, GA. Over the course of two days, almost 440 men, women and children were sold to the highest bidder. The issue of slavery would drive a wedge between the states and engulf the U.S. in civil war.

1917: Puerto Ricans are Americans too: Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the U.S. in 1898 as part of the terms of the Spanish-American war. The U.S. gradually gave the people of Puerto Rico more democratic power by setting up a legislature and other elected officials. The Puerto Rican House of Delegates voted for Independence in 1914, but the U.S. Congress rejected this. Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship with the Jones-Shafroth Act, which also opened up Puerto Rican men to the draft, since the U.S. would soon enter WWI at President Wilson’s urging.

1961: Kennedy Starts the Peace Corps: At the height of Cold War tensions, and in between the Korean and Vietnam wars, JFK sought to increase the humanitarian presence of the U.S. with the creation of the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is a volunteer program that continues to send Americans to assist developing countries today. Kennedy announced its creation over a television broadcast on this day in 1961. Idealistic American youth flocked to the program, eager to lend a helping hand and avoid military service in Vietnam. The program has sent over 225,000 volunteers to over 40 countries over the course of its operation.

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