July 15, 1960 — John F. Kennedy delivers the “New Frontier” speech

The 1960 Democratic Convention was still a fairly competitive contest when it opened on July 11 at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Kennedy was the obvious front-runner, but Lyndon Johnson was still in the game. However, after Kennedy defeated him in a televised debate, Johnson’s fortunes began to fade. Kennedy was elected with an absolute (if narrow) majority on the first ballot of the convention, becoming the nominee. After some backroom negotiations, Johnson agreed to be Kennedy’s Vice-Presidential running mate.

And so it was that on the final day of the convention, Kennedy gave a speech accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party as their candidate for President of the United States. The speech he gave, widely known as the ‘New Frontier’ speech after the metaphor that drove most of it, was a high water mark of progressive rhetoric, and remains so even today:

We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier — the frontier of the 1960s, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats. … Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.

As President, Kennedy would be quite successful in progressing towards these policy aims, and Johnson would continue with them when he succeeded to the office.

1866 – Laura Foster is murdered

Tom Dula was a North Carolina boy who had a great disregard for two things: the seventh commandment (you know, the one about adultery) and consequences. He had a long term affair with a woman named Ann Foster, and later, with her cousins, Laura and Pauline.

However, after Laura got pregnant by Dula, and – as he believed – infected him with syphilis (it appears that it may have actually been Pauline he caught that from), Tom decided to end his relationship with Laura. It remains unclear who actually killed Laura – it may have been Tom, Ann or Pauline – but it was Tom who was convicted and sent to the gallows for the crime.

Referenced in:

Tom Dooley — The Kingston Trio

1963 — U.S. President John F Kennedy is assassinated

One of the defining events of its era, the assassination of President Kennedy remains a remarkably controversial one, even today. Conspiracy theories abound as to who shot Kennedy and why.

While the official story, that Lee Harvey Oswald did it, with the rifle, in the book depository, is plausible, it is also notably incomplete – there are any number of holes and anomalies in it. The murder of Oswald only two days later, before he could stand trial, has done nothing to quell these uncertainties.

On a symbolic level, the death of Kennedy was the end of an era in many ways. Quite aside from the idealism that he brought to the nation, his death marked a change in the way America saw itself – no longer the lily-white paladin, but more the grim avenger willing do the dirty work no one else would – although in fairness, this change of self-image would take the rest of the decade to be complete.

Referenced in:

Civil War — Guns n’ Roses
Tabloid Junkie — Michael Jackson
Tomorrow, Wendy — Andy Prieboy
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel
He Was A Friend of Mine — The Byrds
Tomorrow, Wendy — Concrete Blonde
Song for a Friend — The Kingston Trio
Purple Toupee — They Might Be Giants
She Is Always Seventeen — Harry Chapin

1876 – Custer is defeated and killed at Little Bighorn

General George Armstrong Custer went into battle at Little Big Horn under a number of false impressions.

He was under the impression that he would be facing no more than 800 Native Americans, rather than more than twice that number – Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse had recruited assiduously, knowing that a battle was coming. He was under the impression that his major challenge would be preventing the escape of the enemy forces, rather than defeating them. And finally, he was under the impression, based on these assumptions, that the force under the command of his subordinate Major Reno would be far more effective in battle than it proved.

But with Reno’s forces isolated and routed, Custer’s forces were outnumbered and surrendered. More than 200 men in Custer’s army, including Custer himself, were killed.

Referenced in:

Custer – Johnny Cash
General Custer – Swan
Jim Bridger – Johnny Horton
Little Big Horn – Running Wild
I Love America – Alice Cooper
Custer Had It Coming – Redbone
Custer Song – Buffy Sainte-Marie
The Punch Line – The Minutemen
Custer Died A-Runnin’ – David Wilkie
Some Fool Made A Soldier Of Me – The Kingston Trio
Please Mister Custer, I Don’t Wanna Go – Larry Verne
History is Made By Stupid People – The Arrogant Worms