A ‘Most Honest Horse Thief’: James Byrnes’ Role In Japan’s Conditional Surrender

By Paul Ham

Upon his swearing in as President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, on 3rd July 1945, James Francis ‘Jimmy’ Byrnes quietly assumed greater powers than his new position entailed. In coming weeks, Byrnes would act as Truman’s big brother and almost as a de facto president.

On one issue Byrnes appeared utterly uncompromising. It was that America should never waver from her insistence on the ‘unconditional surrender’ of Japan.

The new Secretary had hitherto been crystal clear by what he meant by ‘unconditional surrender’: it meant the dismantling of the Japanese Imperial system and putting the Emperor on trial as a war criminal.

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Posted in Contemporary History, Military History

The Man Who Burned Washington D.C.

By Peter Snow

The only time other than 9/11 that an outside force has attacked the United States capital (Washington D.C.) was on 24 August 1814. And one man more than any other was responsible for it: George Cockburn, a Rear Admiral in the British Royal Navy. Strange, you might think, that an Admiral was the driving force in an attack on a city some way from the ocean, but George Cockburn was a very unusual admiral.

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Posted in Military History, Modern History

Shedding the Mythology of the Good Slaveholder

Tomlinson Hill Welcome Sign
By Chris Tomlinson

My grandfather used to tell me that our family had owned slaves before the Civil War, and they loved us so much that they took our last name. The descendants of the former slaves, he said, still lived on the land where their ancestors had planted cotton, a place called Tomlinson Hill.

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Posted in Contemporary History, Modern History

Today in History: Almost 100 Years After the Death of the Romanovs

The Romanov Sisters cover

On this day in history, 96 years ago, the Romanov Family was awakened from their sleep and executed, under the impression they were being moved for safety reasons. Helen Rappaport depicts the personal lives of the four Romanov sisters through extensive research, uncovering details in never before published diaries and correspondence all presented in her New York Times bestselling book, The Romanov Sisters.

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Posted in Modern History

Life on the Streets of Victorian London

Leadenhall Street in Victorian London
By Judith Flanders

One of the earliest changes to the streets was the arrival of public transport. For most of the century, most people walked—an hour to work, an hour home, was not unusual. But in 1828, a coach-builder saw omnibuses on a visit to Paris, and he thought they might work in London.

Inside the buses held twelve seats, with another two seats beside the coachman. These box-seats were for favored regulars, who tipped the driver to ensure that places were kept for them. They were very much for men only. The driver offered the passenger the end of a leather strap. Grasping it with one hand, and a handle on the side of the bus with the other, the passenger put his foot on the wheel and then swung himself up. From 1849, there was also seating on top of the bus, reached by a set of iron rungs at the back which led to a bench, also the preserve of men: no woman in skirts could have managed the ladders. Inside was low-roofed, and so narrow that the knees of facing passengers touched. There was straw on the floor, to keep the damp and cold out, but it was not very effective, and usually very dirty.

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Posted in Modern History

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