1847 – The Independent Treasury Act comes into force

James Knox Polk was the eleventh President of the USA. In 1846, he approved a law restoring the Independent Treasury System, under which government funds were held in the Treasury and not in banks or other financial institutions.

This established independent treasury deposit offices, separate from private or state banks, to receive all government funds. The money belonging to the treasury could thus be separated from the market, ensuring that neither could influence the other. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be how it worked in practice, and the Independent Treasury System was eventually discontinued in 1921.

Referenced in:
James K. Polk – They Might Be Giants

1863 — Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation

Although a legendary milestone in the long fight for racial equality in the United States of America, the Emancipation Proclamation was in fact a cynical political gambit. By freeing slaves in all those areas still in open rebellion against the government in Washington D.C. – more than three quarters of the four million black slaves in America at that time – Lincoln hoped to encourage rebellions and desertions among the slave population, splitting the Confederate forces and hamstringing their economy. He made no such gesture for any of the slave holding states on his side of the Civil War – but he doubt realised that come the end of the war, he had created conditions whereby they too would expect to be freed.

The overall effects of the Emancipation were more or less as Lincoln had hoped, although less drastic in their effects than he might have wished. There were plentiful desertions by slaves; conversely, there were also desertions by Union troopers who felt that this was not what they had signed up for.

Referenced in:

Black Man — Stevie Wonder

1892 – Ellis Island Inspection Station opens

Ellis Island is a small island in Upper New York Bay, near Liberty Island and Jersey City. A natural island, it was greatly expanded with landfill (much of it having come from the tunnels being dug for New York’s subways) to create a larger, flatter area on which to construct the Inspection Station.

From 1892 to 1954, it was the major landing place for immigrants entering the United States of America from Europe. Literally millions of people passed through the Inspection Station (less than 2% of arrivals were rejected) on their way to new lives – most of whom would settle in New Jersey, New York or other nearby states. The first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island was Annie Moore, a 15-year-old girl from Cork, Ireland, who arrived on the ship Nevada on New Year’s Day, 1892. She and her two brothers had come to America to be reunited with their parents.

Referenced in:
An Open Letter to NYC — Beastie Boys

1981 – Solidarity continues protest actions in Poland

The independent trade union known in the west as Solidarity was formed on September 17, 1980. It was the successor of a number of previous protest and unionisation movements in Poland, and fittingly, one of its first major acheivements was the recognition of its predecessors with the creation of the Momument to the Fallen Shipyards Workers 1970, unveiled on December 16, 1980.

Across that winter, Solidarity continued various protest actions, notably meeting with a delegation from the Vatican on January 15 of 1981. As the organisation evolved, it became something greater than just a trade union: it became a fully-fledged movement for social, political and economic revolution. Increasingly, it was led by the charismatic Lech Walesa, who became an inspirational figure to progressives the world over.

Solidarity eventually acheived its goals with the overthrow of the Communist regime in Poland in 1989. Its subsequent transition to becoming a political party has been a rocky and rather less successful one.

Referenced in:
New Year’s Day – U2

1994 – NAFTA comes into effect

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is primarily intended to end tariffs between the USA, Canada and Mexico, allowing for the free trade of goods and services between them. Of course, it also revisited copyright to bring certain films back out of the public domain (because there’s such a thing as too much freedom where Hollywood is concerned), and some agricultural tariffs were not covered by it either.

All in all, twenty years on, NAFTA’s legacy is a mixed one, having ultimately turned out to be neither as bad as some feared or as good as some promised. Economics is many things, but none of them is ever simple.

Referenced in:
Take Back The USA — The Charlie Daniels Band
The Only Good Fascist Is A Very Dead Fascist — Propagandhi

2001 – The Twenty-First Century begins

Contrary to popular belief, and due to the fact that there never was a year zero (history goes from 1 BC to 1 AD – or 1 BCE to 1 CE) without stopping, the hundreth year of each count – that is, the years that actually end in 00 – is a part of the previous century. So despite all the millenial madness that attended the last day of 1999 and the first day of 2000, the Twenty-First century CE did not actually begin for another year.

Nor will it end until December 31st, 2100 – and if you’re still around that night, you can bore everyone with calendrical pedentry if that’s what floats your boat.

Referenced in:
I Want That Man — Debbie Harry