Today in History

Today in History: April 15

Jackie Robinson Breaks the Color Line

America is…more interested in the grace of a man's swing, in the dexterity of his cutting a base, and his speed afoot, in his scientific body control, in his excellence as a competitor on the field…than they are in the pigmentation of a man's skin…

Speech by Branch Rickey for the "One Hundred Percent Wrong Club" Banquet,
Atlanta, Georgia, January 20, 1956.
Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson,
By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s

Jackie Robinson in Kansas City Monarchs uniform
[Detail] Jackie Robinson in Kansas City Monarchs uniform,
Breaking the Color Line: 1940-1946,
Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson,
By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson put on his first Brooklyn Dodgers uniform (number 42) and broke the Major League Baseball "color line".  Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey signed a contract with Robinson to play for the team on October 23, 1945. Robinson then spent a year on a minor league team to sharpen his skills.  Rickey, who called the move baseball's "great experiment," chose Robinson because of his excellent athletic record and strength of character. The first player to "cross the color line" would have to be able to withstand intense public scrutiny and to avoid confrontation even when met with insults and hostility.

Robinson was a well-rounded athlete, having competed in college baseball, football, basketball, and track. He had served in the Army and was active in the Civil Rights Movement. Robinson was a professional player for the Kansas City Monarchs, an all-black team in the Negro American League.

Jackie Scores Winning Run
Pittsburgh Courier, Washington Edition, Saturday, April 19, 1947.
Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson,
By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s

Not only was Robinson able to quell opposition to his presence on the field, but he quickly won the respect and enthusiasm of the fans. He finished his first season batting .297 and led the National League in stolen bases with 29, earning baseball's first Rookie of the Year Award. Two years later in 1949 he won the National League's Most Valuable Player Award, leading the league with a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases.

Lobby Card For The Jackie Robinson Story
[Detail] Lobby Card Promoting "The Jackie Robinson Story,"
Showing Minor Watson as Dodgers president Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson as himself.
Copyright by Pathe Industries, 1950.
By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s

Off the field, Robinson was the subject of everything from songs to a feature-length film about his life. He even starred as himself in the movie, "The Jackie Robinson Story." Released in 1950, it was one of the first films to portray a black man as an American hero.

In 1955, after getting close several times, Robinson finally played on a world-champion team when the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the World Series. He retired from baseball after the 1956 season with a lifetime batting average of .311 and the distinction of having stolen home an incredible 19 times. A legend even in his day, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame (external link) in 1962, his first year of eligibility.

Discover more about Jackie Robinson and other baseball greats in American Memory:

The ball game
The Ball Game
Thomas A. Edison, Inc., 1898.
America at Work, America at Leisure: Motion Pictures from 1894-1915

Photographed from one camera position behind home plate, the film shows a baseball game in progress. The action includes two players running toward the camera; one uniform is distinquishable as Newark, New Jersey.

Continental Congress Ratifies Preliminary Articles of Peace with Great Britain

There shall be a firm and perpetual peace between his Britannic Majesty and the said States,…wherefore all hostilities both by sea and land shall then immediately cease.

The United States in Congress assembled…Now know ye, that we the United States in Congress assembled, have ratified and confirmed…the said articles…
Broadside printed by David C. Claypoole, Philadelphia, 1783.
Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789

Premiere Assemblee du Congres
Premiere Assemblée du Congrès [detail],
François Godefroy, mixed method, in Essais Historiques et Politiques sur la Revolution de l'Amerique Septentrionale, 1782.
Rare Book and Special Collections

The Continental Congress ratified preliminary articles of peace ending the Revolutionary War with Great Britain on April 15, 1783. International intrigue and intense negotiation preceded the formulation of these preliminary articles.

The June 1, 1781, entry in the Journals of the Continental Congress notes "that Congress have received undoubted intelligence…that the Courts of Vienna and Petersburg have offered their mediation to the belligerent powers for the re-establishment of peace…" A few days later, on June 15, 1781, the Congress issued "instructions to honourable John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens and Thomas Jefferson, ministers plenipotentiary on behalf of the United States to negotiate a treaty of peace." Although Jefferson did not go to Europe to negotiate, he eventually shepherded the treaty through Congress and later drafted the legislation for the political organization of the western lands acquired by the treaty.

Formal discussions of peace began in Paris in April 1782. France, allied with the U.S.  since 1778, along with Spain and the Netherlands also sought to end hostilities with Great Britain and pressured the U.S. to seek peace only in alliance. Regarding a British offer to negotiate directly with its former colony the French warned:

…treating separately with America…this had always been the chimerical and favourite idea of England; and that so long as it subsisted there would perhaps be no possibility of treating seriously about the conditions of a peace. That their negotiations would only be an artifice to scatter divisions among the allies, and retard their exertions for continuing the war…

Entry for Tuesday, September 24, 1782, in Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

From the beginning, Congress instructed the U.S. commissioners:

…to make the most candid and confidential communications upon all subjects to the ministers of our generous ally, the King of France; to undertake nothing in the negotiations for peace or truce without their knowledge and concurrence; and ultimately to govern yourselves by their advice and opinion…

Entry for Friday, June 15, 1781, in Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789.
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

The Americans determined, however, that Europe's secret diplomacy and intrigues did not facilitate peace for the U.S., and concluded a separate preliminary treaty with Great Britain. Care was yet taken to ensure that the final formal treaties (U.S. and Great Britain, France and Great Britain, Spain and Great Britain) were all signed on the same day, September 3, 1783. "We were better tacticians than was imagined," said John Adams.1

The treaty's main terms guaranteed U.S. independence from Britain, and acquisition of territory that lay between the thirteen colonies and the Mississippi River. This territory, ceded to Britain under a previous Treaty of Paris which concluded the French and Indian War in 1763, became known as the Northwest Territory.

1. Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 459, quoting John Adams, December 14, 1782, letter to Elbridge Gerry, "The Adams Family Papers," Massachusetts Historical Society. (Return to text)

Tax Day

Today, April 15, is Tax Day. From its beginnings the United States raised revenue. Whiskey and tobacco taxes provided much of the government's early revenue. But, financing the Revolutionary War was expensive and the young United States struggled to raise funds from the thirteen states:

Resolved, That these United States be called on to pay in their respective quotas of fifteen millions of dollars in the year 1779, and of six millions of dollars annually for 18 years from and after the year 1779, as a fund for sinking the emissions and loans of these United States to the 31st day of December, 1778, inclusive.

In Congress, January 13, 1779: We cannot review the progress of the revolution which has given freedom to America, without admiring the goodness and gratefully acknowledging the interposition of Divine Providence…,
in Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789

government tax worker
Public Tax Worker, Washington, D.C.,
Carl Mydans, photographer, 1936.
FSA/OWI Photographs, 1935-1945

An income tax was first collected during the Civil War from 1862 to 1872. During the administration of President Grover Cleveland, the federal government again levied an income tax, enacted by Congress in 1894. However, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional the following year. As a result, supporters of an income tax embarked on the lengthy process of amending the Constitution. Not until the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified in 1913 was Congress given the power "to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census of enumeration."

Homer S. Cummings, chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the Woodrow Wilson administration, counted the income tax among the most notable accomplishments of the Democratic Party. Provision for an income tax, he observed in "Achievements of the Democratic Party," in American Leaders Speak, 1918-1920, relieved the law "of the reproach of being unjustly burdensome to the poor."

Arthur Botsford, interviewed in "Connecticut Clockmakers," an American Life Histories, 1936-1940 interview, had a different point of view. "If you got money in the bank, they want to know just how much, and how much interest is comin' on it, and everything else. It may be only two dollars, and if you got money in the bank, they want to know."