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1/1/1808 • Transatlantic Slave Trade Ended

A new federal law banned the importation of slaves into the United States. After a 20-year moratorium on any legislation dealing with the issue, President Thomas Jefferson urged Congress to finally end the transatlantic slave trade. The final bill, passed in 1807, made it illegal to import slaves, but the internal trade in human chattel continued (right). The turbulent debates over the law underscored a growing rift between North and South.

2/15/1898 • Remember the Maine!

An explosion sank USS Maine in Havana Harbor, Cuba. The navy battleship had been dispatched to Havana to protect American interests as the three-year-old Cuban uprising against Spain reached a tipping point. The blast killed 266, and initial reports blamed the explosion on a mine in the harbor. The American “Yellow Press” goaded the U.S. government into exacting revenge, and Congress declared war on Spain in April. Spurred by the rallying cry “Remember the Maine,” American troops won a decisive military victory in four months. A 1976 study concluded that the explosion had occurred onboard the ship, although the exact cause is still in dispute.

2/15/1933 • Assassination Attempt on FDR

President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt had just finished a speech at Bayfront Park in Miami, Fla., when gunshots rang out. Roosevelt was unhurt, but Chicago Mayor Anton “Tony” Cermak (above center), who had accompanied FDR to Miami, was wounded. Giuseppe Zangara, an immigrant anarchist, confessed to the crime and was later executed. Cermak had revitalized the Democratic Party in Chicago, but he had run afoul of mob boss Al Capone, leading to speculation that the mayor, not FDR, was the real target of the shooting. Cermak died on March 6.

1/12/1973 • Roe v.Wade

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 7-2 decision striking down most state laws that restricted abortion. In 1970 Norma L. McCorvey had filed suit in Texas as “Jane Roe,” demanding the right to an abortion; the state was represented by Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade. After a district court found in McCorvey’s favor, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case on appeal. Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the court’s majority opinion. Justices William Rehnquist and Byron White were the only two dissenters. Roe v. Wade instantly polarized the nation, making abortion rights a seminal ethical and political issue and widened the divide between those on the left and the right.