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Today in History: July 7-9
The "Quasi-War" begins, a US fleet "opens" Japan, and more
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July 7, 1798: The United States Congress annuls the 1778 Treaty of Alliance between the US and France. The annulment is considered the opening act of the 1798-1800 “Quasi-War” between the two countries. Congressional opinion (and public opinion, for that matter) in the US turned decisively against France following the notorious “XYZ Affair,” in which a US diplomatic delegation to Paris (there to discuss the French Navy’s seizure of multiple US commercial ships over the previous two years) took offense at French Foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord’s insistence that they pay for the privilege of speaking with him. The conflict that ensued was never formally declared a war but did involve several clashes between US and French naval vessels and/or privateers. It finally ended with the Convention of 1800 and a formal statement of US neutrality.
July 7, 1892: Anti-Spanish independence advocates in the Philippines found the Katipunan, which means “association” and is short for a Tagalog name that I won’t try to reproduce but means “Supreme and Honorable Association of the Children of the Nation” in English. Originally a secret society, the Katipunan splintered off of the reformist La Liga Filipina and included Liga members who supported armed revolution against the Spanish colonial authorities. Its discovery by those colonial authorities in 1896 was one of the immediate triggers for the Philippine Revolution.
July 7, 1937: The Marco Polo Bridge Incident, a clash between Chinese and Japanese troops near Wanping, ends with the Chinese force holding the bridge but still obliged to make concessions to the superior Japanese force in order to end the confrontation. This relatively minor incident sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War, which continued into and throughout World War II.
July 7, 1991: The Brioni Agreement ends the Slovenian War of Independence. The agreement required Slovenia and Croatia to delay their independence bids for three months in exchange for the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army from both republics. In reality this marked the end of the Slovenian phase of Yugoslavia’s disintegration, while having no effect on the war in Croatia.
July 8, 1497: A Portuguese armada sets sail under the command of Vasco da Gama bound for India. Da Gama’s completion of the route around Africa was the first direct European oceanic contact with India and stands alongside Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas, for better or worse, as one of the milestones of the Age of Exploration.
July 8, 1709: A Russian army under the command of Tsar Peter I defeats a Swedish army commanded by Count Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld at the Battle of Poltava. This was the largest engagement of the 1700-1721 Great Northern War, pitting some 75,000 Russian soldiers against a Swedish force numbering around 30,000. It also proved to be a turning point in that conflict, in which a Russian-led coalition challenged the Swedish Empire’s supremacy in northern Europe. After a very successful first six years of the war, Swedish King Charles XII made the fateful decision to invade Russia in 1707. The Swedish defeat at Poltava was the culmination of that invasion. Most of the Swedish army was forced to surrender, while Charles himself fled into the Ottoman Empire for protection. He spent several years there before eventually wearing out his welcome and being sent home.
July 8, 1853: A US naval expedition commanded by Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrives at Japan’s Edo (Tokyo) Bay. The “Perry Expedition” was intended to open diplomatic and commercial ties with several Indo-Pacific nations, but its main goal was to force the Japanese government to abandon its isolationism (at least with respect to the US). Perry’s threats to attack Edo had the desired effect and he was eventually permitted to carry out his main formal task, delivering a letter from US President Millard Fillmore to senior Japanese officials. He returned with a larger fleet in February 1854 and—again under threat of force—negotiated the Convention of Kanagawa, which opened the Japanese ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to US ships.
July 9, 1816: The United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata declares independence from Spain. As most of those provinces went on to form Argentina, this is commemorated as Argentine Independence Day.
July 9, 1944: In one of the more decisive engagements of World War II’s Pacific Theater, the United States emerges victorious from the Battle of Saipan. Control of Saipan, the largest of the northern Mariana Islands, put the US military in position to begin B-29 bombing attacks against Japan itself. The island served as a staging point for the US reconquest of the Philippines later in 1944. The defeat also led to the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tōjō.
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