This Day in History – December 2nd

1823 – US President James Monroe outlines the “Monroe Doctrine” in a State of the Union Address – For hundreds of years, on what is typically an annual basis, US presidents have given a speech before a joint session of Congress known as a “State of the Union Address,” during which the president reports on the condition of the nation and also what their priorities are as commander in chief. In modern times, it is often held in late January or early February. However, in the past numerous addresses were given on this date. One of them was given by James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States, who was in office from 1817 to 1825. Before the presidency, Monroe served as Governor of Virginia and as a diplomat to France, during which time he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. For his seventh State of the Union Address, delivered on this date 1823, Monroe proclaimed that the Americas should be free from future European colonization, and that sovereign countries in North and South America should be free from European interference. Along with these demands, he stated that the United States intended to stay neutral in future European wars. At the time of the address, many Latin American countries had already or were in the process of achieving independence from Spain and Portugal. In the years that followed, the ideas from Monroe’s speech became known as the “Monroe Doctrine” (though the speech was actually written by John Quincy Adams). It is seen as a defining moment in US foreign policy, even if they haven’t always adhered to it in the strictest sense. 22 years later, on this date in 1845, James K. Polk (who has been described as the “least known consequential president”) proposed aggressive western expansion of the country to the Pacific. He was successful, buying the Oregon Territory from Britain and claiming huge portions of the American Southwest in the Mexican-American War, so that the United States stretched from “Sea to Shining Sea.”

1954 – The United States Senate censures Wisconsin Senator and anti-Communist crusader Joseph McCarthy for “conduct unbecoming to a senator” – On this date in 1954 by a vote of 67 to 22, Joseph McCarthy was condemned of “conduct unbecmoning to a senator” on two counts: contempt and abuse of a Senate committee which had looked into his financial affairs in 1952; and insulting members of that committee on national television, thereby bringing the Senate “into dishonour and disrepute” and obstructing the constitutional process. In the spring of 1954, after years of trying to root out Communists in the government, the field of education and the entertainment industry, and ruining the careers of many people, McCarthy had begun publicly investigating the possibility of Communists in the Army. This had proven to be the last straw, and a committee was set up later that summer to look into McCarthy’s behaviour. That group, known as the Watkins Committee, concluded that McCarthy ought to be censured for his conduct in the Senate, particularly regarding his treatment of General Ralph Zwicker. In response, McCarthy called the Watkins Committee “the unwitting handmaiden of the Communist Party” and “a lynch party.” It was these comments that led to the vote to censure McCarthy. The following year, McCarthy lost his job as chair of the Senate Permanent Investigating Subcommittee charged with looking into Communist influence on the government. His years of influence had come to an end, with President Dwight Eisenhower reportedly quipping that “McCarthyism” had become “McCarthywasm.” McCarthy died less than three years later on Sept. 1, 1957 from cirrhosis of the liver induced by years of heavy drinking.

1993 – Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar is shot and killed in Medellín –

At the peak of his power in the late 1980s, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his Medellín drug cartel were shipping around 70-80 tons of cocaine to the United States every month, accounting for an income of over US $70 million per day. Escobar’s fortune in the early ’90s was estimated at $30 billion (closer to $54 billion today), making him one of the richest men in the world. Escobar was born near Medellín, Colombia on Dec. 1, 1949. He became involved with different criminal activities in his 20s including kidnapping and smuggling contraband. By the 1970s, he found smuggling products such as cigarettes to be too dangerous, as there was so much competition, but he saw an opportunity: no one else seemed to be smuggling illegal narcotics. Escobar ruthlessly expanded his operations and developed smuggling routes into the United States. Law enforcement officers and government officials he dealt with were given a choice, “plata o plomo” (silver or lead), meaning they could either accept bribes from him or be killed. In 1982, Escobar was actually elected to the Colombian Chamber of Representatives, where he made numerous positive contributions, including the construction of many hospitals and schools. In 1992, Escobar learned he would be moved from the luxurious private prison where he was confined (where he was still running his drug empire) to a more conventional prison. He escaped from prison and would spend the rest of life on the run from the law. He turned 44 on Dec. 1, 1993 and, the following day, on this date in 1993, he was gunned down on a rooftop in his hometown of Medellín while attempting to evade Colombian National Police.

2015 – Syed Rizwan Farok and Tashfeen Malik kill 14 people and wound 22 others at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California – Today marks the one year anniversary since over a dozen people were killed in a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. The perpetrators were Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple, who chose to target a Christmas party and training event being held by the San Barnardino County Department of Public Health. Around 80 employees were attending the event in a rented banquet hall at the center. Farook, a health department employee, was a natural born US citizen of Pakistani descent. Malik had been born in Pakistan, but was a permanent resident of the United States. They fled the scene of the shooting in an SUV, but were tracked down and killed by police in a shootout four hours later. After a three-day investigation by the FBI, the crime was announced to have been an act of terrorism. FBI Director James B. Comey described the couple as “homegrown violent extremists” who had been inspired by foreign terrorist groups, but were not a part of any terror group. In their home, a stockpile of weapons, ammunition and bomb-making equipment was found. A friend and former neighbour of the couple was later arrested and charged with several federal crimes including “conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism.” The attack was the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the deadliest terrorist attack to occur in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks, until the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando on June 12, 2016.

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