This Day in History – May 20th

1609 – English publisher Thomas Thorpe prints Shakespeare’s sonnets, perhaps illegally – When one thinks of William Shakespeare, it’s hard to not first think of the Immortal Bard’s prolific catalogue of plays, after all, they were what first gained him acclaim. Some of his first recorded works are historical plays detailing the lives of English kings Richard III and Henry VI, thought to have been written in the 1590s. Within 15 years, he had cranked out over a dozen other timeless classics, including Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, and on and on. Many of his works were written to be performed on stage at London’s Globe Theatre performed by (then) famous actors like Richard Burbage. So, while it may not have yet held the cache that it does today, Shakespeare’s name was a known commodity in early 17th Century London, England. That may have been what led publisher Thomas Thorpe to get his hands on 154 sonnets written by Shakespeare and publish them on this date in 1609, with “Never Before Imprinted” embossed on the cover. To this day, some mystery surrounds Thorpe and whether he ever got permission from the poet to print this collection of 14-line romantic poems. In his career, Thorpe also printed the works of some of Shakespeare’s notable contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson, so some scholars believe Thorpe must have acted reputably. However, a strange dedication “To Mr. W.H.” signed “T.T.” have left people curious as to why Shakespeare himself didn’t dedicate his own book of poetry. And who is ‘Mr. W.H.’? It remains an unsolved mystery. However the sonnets came to be printed, generations of poetry lovers are glad they were. The most famous of the sonnets is probably Sonnet 18, which contains the lines “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate” and “So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

Seal_of_North_Carolina1775 – The Mecklenbeurg Declaration of Independence is supposedly signed in Charlotte, North Carolina – Most history books state that the first formal declaration of independence from Great Britain written in the American Colonies during the American Revolution was penned by founding father Thomas Jefferson, in the form of the United States Declaration of Independence, in the summer of 1776. However, there are some who claim this distinction belongs to the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, which is said to have been signed in Charlotte, North Carolina on this date in 1775. In late April 1819, an article about this earlier declaration, written by Dr. Joseph M. Alexander, appeared in the Raleigh Register. Dr. Alexander claimed that his father had been one of the signatories of a declaration of independence in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina after they had heard news of the Battle of Lexington. “It is not probably known to many of our readers,” wrote the editor of the Raleigh Register in an introduction to the article, “that the citizens of Mecklenburg County, in this State made a Declaration of Independence more than a year before Congress made theirs.” Among other resolutions supposedly passed early on the morning of this date are that “we the citizens of Mecklenburg County, do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the Mother Country, and hereby absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown, and abjure all political connection, contract, or association, with that Nation.” Dr. Alexander’s article caused a stir when it was published, as it suggested Jefferson may have plagiarized some of the Meckenburg document’s phrasing. But as there was no real evidence to support it, many – including Jefferson in a letter to John Adams – doubted the story was true. But, North Carolinians and that state’s government were convinced the Mecklenburg Declaration was genuine, and the date it was supposedly signed, May 20, 1775, still appears on the Seal of North Carolina.

1927 – Aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh takes off from Long Island, New York bound for Paris – Born in Detroit in February 1902, Charles Lindbergh was fascinated by motorized transportation and flight from an early age and, at the age of 20, began his flight training in Lincoln, Nebraska. He flew for the first time on April 9, 1922 as a passenger in a two-seat bi-plane. He spent a year doing military flight training at an Air Force base in Texas from 1924-1925, surviving a midair collision eight days before graduation. Then, for a while he served as a US Air Mail pilot, until he heard about the Orteig Prize, which would award $25,000 to the first pilot to make a successful non-stop flight between New York and Paris. Many rich and famous pilots, with far more experience than Lindbergh (who had never flown over water), were making plans to complete the trip. A $15,000 bank loan helped Lindbergh secure ownership of his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis a single-seat, single engine monoplane. By this date in 1927, when Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field in Long Island, six pilots had already died attempting the flight. He took off 7:52 am local time and would later report of such spectacular feats as fighting off ice and storm clouds at 10,000 feet, flying blind through fog and narrowly avoiding ocean waves. He navigated by the stars when he could see them, and arrived 33.5 hours later at Le Bourget Airport in Paris. News of his impending arrival had reportedly attracted thousands of spectators, creating what was then the largest traffic jam in Parisian history. He was later awarded the USA’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his record flight. Five years later, American Amelia Earhart chose this same date to begin her flight, which became the world’s first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean by a female pilot. On this date in 1932, she departed from Newfoundland, successfully landing in Ireland the next day. Today a statue stands in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland commemorating the event. Just over five years after that, in July 1937, Earhart disappeared while attempting a circumnavigation of the globe.

levesque_pic1980 – 60 percent of Quebecers vote ‘No’ in a referendum to determine whether the province should move towards independence from Canada – Parti Québécois founder René Lévesque swept to power in 1976, winning 71 of the province’s 110 legislative seats and becoming premier. One of the biggest accomplishments his government is remembered for is “Bill 101” or the “Quebec Charter of the French Language” which sought to make French the “normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business” in the province. Under Bill 101, only children whose parents had attended English schools in Quebec could be enrolled in English schools. All other children were required to attend French schools, to encourage immigrants to integrate themselves into Quebec’s French culture. Bill 101 also mandated that businesses could only put up exterior signs with English on them if they featured larger French translations. On this date in 1980, Lévesque’s government followed through with an election promise to hold a referendum on its plan for “sovereignty-association,” which would mean achieving sovereignty for Qeuebec, and “the creation of a political and economic association between this new independent state and Canada.” The rather cumbersome referendum question read, in part: “The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations; this agreement would enable Quebec to acquire the exclusive power to make its laws, levy its taxes and establish relations abroad — in other words, sovereignty… do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?” Sixty percent of voters voted against the proposal. Lévesque was re-elected to a second term in 1981, and died of a heart attack in November 1987. Quebec held a second, much closer, referendum in 1995, with just over 50 percent of voters electing to remain a part of Canada.

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