Today in Legal History: Hawaiian Monarchy Overthrown by American Colonists

On January 17, 1893, a group of American sugar planters, led by Sanford Ballard Dole, deposed the reigning Hawaiian monarch, Queen Liliuokalani.  The coup was staged with the knowledge of then U.S. minister to Hawaii, John Stevens.  On February 1, 1893 minister Stevens recognized the new government (led by Sanford Dole) and proclaimed Hawaii a U.S. protectorate.  President Cleveland tried to restore Queen Liliuokalani and opposed annexation throughout the remainder of his presidency.  Hawaii was annexed in 1898 during President McKinley’s term of office.  Hawaii became a formal territory in 1901 and the 50th state in 1959.

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Today in Legal History: Clinton Impeached

On December 19, 1998 the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, charging him with lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. He was eventually acquitted on both and served his full term.

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Today in Legal History: Human Rights Day

On December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The UDHR’s broad range of political, civil, social, cultural and economic rights are not binding; however, the document has inspired the human rights laws and treaties which constitute an international standard of human rights. The UDHR was created to serve as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations,” and was the first universal document to state that all humans have certain inalienable rights. Human Rights Day was formally observed after the Assembly passed the resolution 423 (V) in 1950, which invited all nations and interested parties to observe December 10th as Human Rights Day.

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Today in Legal History: Founding of the Grange

To unite farmers, Oliver Kelly and six others created the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry on December 4, 1867, soon known as the Grange.  This society was unusual in that it allowed women to become full members from the beginning.  The Grange was a political force that lobbied on behalf of farmers at the state and federal level.  Areas influenced by the Grange included the postal service, interstate shipping, women’s suffrage, and direct election of senators.  The Grange also became an economic force, uniting farmers to create cooperatives and cutting out middlemen.

Due to mismanagement, the Grange’s power substantially decreased in the 1880s; however, its political goals continued through the work of the Greenbacks, the Farmer’s Alliance and the Populists.  The Grange survives today, with 300,000 members.

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Today in Legal History: EPA Formed

The EPA was established on December 2, 1970, under the administration of Richard Nixon.  The EPA took over responsibilities previously handled by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the Atomic Energy Commission, and two lesser agencies.

The EPA was established due to increased concern about pollution in the late 1960’s.  Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a bestseller.  The Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire in 1969.  People demanded action.

The first EPA Administrator was William D. Ruckelshaus.  Under his direction the EPA began issuing rules and regulations within weeks.  Cities were threatened with suits if they did not clean up their drinking water.  DDT was quickly banned.

The EPA is currently responsible for mileage standards, auto emissions, air, soil and water quality, hazardous waste, efficiency standards for appliances, radiation pollution and more.

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Today in Legal History: Coffee Rationed

To aid the war effort, the United States rationed coffee on November 28, 1942.  After a long eight months, the ration ended on July 28, 1943.  While Americans generally had it much easier than residents of other Allied countries, rationing was challenging.  To obtain a rationed item, you had to have coupons and hope it was in stock.  Coffee was not rationed in Britain, but tea was.  Britons were allotted two ounces per week.

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Today in Legal History: Reagan and Gorbachev Meet

On November 19, 1985, President Ronald Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for the first time in Geneva, Switzerland.  Reagan was no friend of the Soviet Union, referring to it as the “Evil Empire,” but Gorbachev was newly in power, with great plans for his country.  The two hit it off.  It was, perhaps, the start of something beautiful.  Within five years, the Cold War would be over.

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Today in Legal History: Railroads Implement Uniform Time Zones

Rail travel transformed the world in many ways, including creating time zones.  Prior to the railroads, time was set by the sun.  As a result, cities and towns adhered to “local times” in their locality.  Timekeeping on a broad geographic scale was a logistical nightmare.  To solve this problem, the railroads adopted a uniform time zone system on November 18, 1883.

While average citizens cheerfully adopted the railroad time zone system, Congress did not adopt it until 1918, at which time it was put under the control of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

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Today in Legal History: Veterans’ Day

Veterans’ Day was originally known as Armistice Day. Armistice Day, proclaimed by President Wilson, commemorated the signing of an armistice on November 11, 1918, ending major hostilities between the Allied forces and Germany during World War I. In 1938 it was made an annual holiday and in 1954 the name was changed to Veterans’ Day, to honor veterans of all wars.

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Today in Legal History: Washington Becomes a State

Washington State was once part of the Oregon Territory.  In 1852, settlers wrote Congress asking for a new territory called Columbia.  Congress obliged, but changed the name to Washington Territory to honor the first President.  Originally, Washington Territory included western Idaho and part of Montana.

Washington Territory went through some interesting times.  For some years, white settlers were banned from moving into the eastern part of the territory to alleviate tensions between the native people and the settlers.  During the 1860s, over 300 civil war widows and female orphans settled in the territory as seamstresses, teachers, and brides.

On November 11, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison formally declared Washington State part of the union, making it the 42nd state.  Women were granted suffrage as part of the charter (The territorial legislature had granted women suffrage, but the territorial Court struck it down).  The first governor of Washington was Elisha P. Ferry.

More information is available at:

  • Washington History
  • Don Brazier, History of the Washington Legislature, 1854-1963 (Library 3rd FloorJK9266.B73 2000
  • Ralph Bushnell Potts Come Now the Lawyers, (Banta 1972) LAW-4th Floor KFW78.P68
  • Norman H. Clark Washington, A Bicentennial History (Norton 1976) LAW-3rd Floor F891.C57
  • Edgar I. Stewart Washington: Northwest Frontier (Lewis Historical Pub. 1957) LAW-3rd Floor F891.S87  v.1  (4 volume set)