This Day in History: Bush Speaks on Operation Iraqi Freedom; VP Nixon Has ‘Kitchen Debate’

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Martin Van Buren dies (1862)
On July 24, 1862, amidst the brutal Civil War, the eighth President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, died of complications from pneumonia. 

Van Buren, the most recent incumbent Vice President to win the presidency other than the elder George Bush, is a founder of the Democratic Party. 

Martin Van Buren served as Secretary of State and then Vice President under Andrew Jackson. He, like the elder Bush, directly followed his vice presidency with a single term as President. 

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Van Buren was also an Attorney General and Governor of New York, and United States Senator. 

He ran for President in 1836, 1840 and 1844 as a Democrat, then ran in 1844 as part of the Free Soil Party, a short-lived abolitionist movement. It was absorbed by the Republican Party in the 1850s. 

Van Buren was a known supporter of abolition and supported the Union’s actions that led to the Civil War. He caught pneumonia in 1861 and died the following summer. He was 79. 

First Confederate State readmitted to the Union (1866)
Four years after Van Buren’s death, Tennessee – the last state to withdraw from the Union – became the first state readmitted into the Union following the Civil War, on July 24, 1866.

A substantial amount of Tennesseans – 26 eastern counties, according to Andrew Glass of Politico – actually fought secession quite fiercely, but the state fought for the Confederate States one nonetheless. 

The state ratified the 14th Amendment – a reconstruction amendment granting equal citizenship and protection under the law to all – before it was readmitted, so it never had an appointed military governor during Reconstruction. 

While that ratification seemed to show signs of progress in the state, the Tennessee General Assembly passed laws disenfranchising blacks and poor whites in 1889, stripping away the right to vote for many citizens until the Voting Rights Act of 1865. 

Charges dropped against 4 of the 'Scottsboro Boys' (1937)
On July 24, 1937, the state of Alabama dropped all charges against four of the ‘Scottsboro Boys’ - nine African-American teenagers accused of raping two white women. 

Legal scholars commonly cite the Scottsboro Boys's cases – posthumously pardoned by Alabama’s parole board, if they didn’t have their convictions previously overturned – as some of the most famous miscarriages of justice. 

The Scottsboro Boys’s cases were all finalized in under two days, an abnormally quick pace for contested criminal cases; and there was medical evidence suggesting the boys innocent, but they were all sentenced to death or life in prison. One of the accusers also recanted.

The Communist Party of the United States of America and the NAACP handled their appeals. 

All nine served jail time after being convicted, though they were never granted proper legal representation or given equal protection under the law, as decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in Powell v. Alabama and Norris v. Alabama – cases that overturned their guilty verdicts. 

The men were all retried following the Supreme Court’s rulings. 

Of the nine teens:

  • Clarence Norris was sentenced to death; then had his sentence commuted to life; he was later pardoned by New York Governor George Wallace; and then published The Last of the Scottsboro Boys (1979)
  • Haywood Patterson escaped prison in Alabama in 1949; was the discovered Michigan in 1950; and then convicted of assault in 1951
  • Ozie Powell was shot by a guard in in 1936, suffering permanent brain damage; pleaded guilty to assault 1837, after the rape charges were dropped; and was paroled in 1946
  • Charlies Weems was convicted in 1937; he was then paroled in 1943, serving 12 years in prison
  • Andy Wright was sentenced to 99 years; then paroled
  • Willie Roberson, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams and Roy Wright had all charges against them dropped after serving six years in prison

There is now a historical marker and museum dedicated in their honor in Scottsboro, Alabama.

Nixon argues with Khrushchev in “Kitchen Debate” (1959) 
On July 24, 1959, Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev took part in the ‘Kitchen Debate’ – a series of exchanges serving as a proxy argument for which nation was superior. 

The debate took place at the American National Exhibition in Moscow. The American National Exhibition followed a Soviet Exhibit in New York City earlier that year. 

The exhibition featured an American home filled with cheap, efficient devices. 

Nixon believed it highlighted America’s innovative qualities, while Khrushchev argued the Soviet Union would be the leader of the world in the near future. 

The debate took place before the Cold War heated up to near nuclear-disaster in the 1960s, peaking in danger with the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

Supreme Court subpoenas Watergate tapes (1974) 
Nixon Must Surrender Tapes, Supreme Court Rules, 8 to 0; He Pledges Full Compliance, read the New York Times’s front-page headline following the Supreme Court’s July 24, 1974 ruling. 

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that President Nixon had to turn over all White House tapes regarding Watergate. The ruling in United States v. Nixon was one of the final straws in the Watergate Scandal, which led to Nixon’s resignation. 

The ruling rejected the assertion that the President of the United States had absolute power to invoke executive privilege in any instance. 

Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974, just a few weeks after the ruling. 

President Ford later pardoned Nixon for any crimes he “committed or may have committed or taken part in” as president.

George Bush at Charleston Airforce Base (2007)
On July 24, 2007, President Bush addressed servicemen and women at the Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina in a speech about the War on Terror.

The full speech, which can be read here, covered the American response to the 9/11 terror attacks that forever changed this nation.

President Bush, traveling with Senator Lindsey Graham, highlighted the importance of defeating al Qaeda in Iraq and the liberation of Afghanistan.

He argued against the congressional pushback he faced in engaging groups in Iraq; and how spread out al Queda was.

President Bush also dispelled any notion that American involvement in Iraq may have caused more problems than it fixed.

The address was one Bush’s most notable second term-speeches on the War on Terror.

The United States formally withdrew combat troops from Iraq in December of 2011.

Other 7/24 highlights
On July 24, 1987, at the young age of 91, Hulda Hoehn Crooks conquered Mt. Fuji in Japan - the oldest person to do so.

On July 24, 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza – stars of the late 90s and early 2000s – were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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