This Week in History

PHOTO: American lawyer and politician William Jennings Bryan argues for the prosecution during the Scopes Monkey Trial, Dayton, Tenn. in 1925.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

America lost three legends this week: a war hero president, a founding father, and a space program that defined an age. Meanwhile, a young politician and an even younger teacher defended, respectively, the power of a gender and the power of an idea. Here's what happened this week in history:

PHOTO: Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off on Feb. 7, 2001 from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on her way to meet up with the International Space Station.
Bruce Weaver/AFP/Getty Images
July 8

2011:Final Space Shuttle Mission Launches

Two years ago this Monday, the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched in the final voyage of the 30-year U.S. Space Shuttle program.

Astronauts Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus, and Rex Walheim rode on the last mission of the program—the 135th space shuttle flight and the 33rd Atlantis flight—to deliver "the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module into space, as well as a bunch of spare parts."

The flight was delayed until the last second by inclement weather but departed on time at 11:26 a.m. EST, Friday, July 8, 2011.

Just before launch, the shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach said to the four astronauts, "Good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of this true American icon. Good luck, God speed and have a little fun up there."

On June 29, the Kennedy Space Center opened a new exhibit that allows the public to view the Atlantis shuttle, tilted at an angle of 43.21 degrees--"as in 4-3-2-1, liftoff."

PHOTO: Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States of America.
Library Of Congress/Getty Images
July 9

1850: President Zachary Taylor Dies, Millard Fillmore Assumes Presidency

On the night of July 9, 1850, U.S. President Zachary Taylor died and left his position to then Vice President Millard Fillmore, who was sworn in as the 13th president the following day.

The cause of Taylor's death is still disputed. Most argue that he contracted cholera from a glass of water or iced milk during the swelteringly hot Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, D.C.

Taylor, or "Old Rough and Ready" as he was known served in the Mexican War as a general and won important battles at Monterrey and Buena Vista.

His military days made him ardently nationalistic. Combined with his opposition to slavery, Taylor's nationalism led him to swear that he would personally lead the U.S. Army into any state attempting to secede from the Union.

President Fillmore chose not to continue his predecessor's strict anti-secession stance and instead advocated and then signed the Compromise of 1850 in an attempt to hold off the Civil War for a few more years.

PHOTO: American lawyer and politician William Jennings Bryan argues for the prosecution during the Scopes Monkey Trial, Dayton, Tenn. in 1925.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
July 10

1925: "Monkey Trial" Begins, Questioning Creationism

All John Thomas Scopes did as a young high school teacher was teach evolution to his students, and he was put on trial for doing it.

The famous "Monkey Trial," as it was nicknamed, began July 10 and brought the debate between creationism and evolution to the national stage when Scopes violated a 1925 Tennessee law which made it a misdemeanor to "teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible…"

Scopes, who had purposefully taught the material planning to get charged, enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union to take up his case to make a public statement about the ridiculousness of the law.

Vaulting the case into the national spotlight, three-time Democratic presidential candidate and creationist hero William Jennings Bryan joined the prosecution team.

Crowds gathered outside the courtroom to watch the legendary trial, enterprising vendors sold Bibles and toy monkeys, chimpanzees played on the lawn outside the court to keep the crowds entertained.

While it was a veritable carnival outside the courtroom, inside the defense suffered setback after setback. Ruling that that expert scientific testimony was inadmissible, Judge Raulston said that Scopes was on trial, not the law he violated.

The next day of the trial, fearing the courtroom floor couldn't sustain the crowds, the judge moved the trial to the lawn outside the court, where William Jennings Bryan himself was then called to testify by the defense.

Making a famously public fool of himself with contradictory statements and angry comments, Bryan's befuddled defense of the Bible made him a laughing stock in the press.

The trial ended, and a guilty verdict was returned; Scopes had, indeed, violated the law. An appeal went to the Supreme Court, which overturned the verdict.

PHOTO: Former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and sitting Vice President Aaron Burr have a duel on July 11, 1804.
Kean Collection/Getty Images
July 11

1804: Duel--Vice President Aaron Burr vs. Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton

One of the most infamous rivalries in American history culminated in a duel of a lifetime and the death of a founding father.

Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr had a long-documented disdain for one another.

Hamilton, who rose from poverty to become the first Treasury Secretary under George Washington, developed the political economy that saved the war torn U.S. from economic calamity.

Burr, who was born into wealth and prestige, joined the Continental Army and rose through the ranks of politics to defeat Hamilton's father-in-law for the U.S. Senate and eventually become Thomas Jefferson's Vice President.

Hamilton stated, "I feel it is a religious duty to oppose his career" when Burr ran for the vice presidency, regarding him as a dangerous self-promoting opportunist.

Hamilton and Burr's contentious relationship was an "affair of honor," which could be solved peacefully or with a duel.

On July 11, 1804, Hamilton and Burr met—guns in hand— to duel in an attempt to defend their honor. Burr was quicker on the draw, and shot Hamilton in the stomach, a wound from which he died the following day.

The public was outraged that such a prominent statesman had been killed in such a barbaric way, and Burr was charged with murder, though he was immune from prosecution as vice president.

Burr was eventually discredited and died a traitor as he concocted various plots to establish independent empires in the Louisiana Territory and Spanish America.

PHOTO: Geraldine Ferraro attends the Columbus Day Parade in New York City in 1984.
Ron Galella/WireImage/Getty Images
July 12

1984: Rep. Geradine Ferraro Becomes First Woman VP Nominee

Democratic Presidential Nominee Walter Mondale made history when he chose the first woman ever to become a vice presidential nominee, Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro.

The New York Republican gave a much needed boost to a campaign competing against a Hollywood actor and charismatic governor, Ronald Reagan.

The boost, however, wasn't enough, and Reagan won the election in a landslide, carrying every state except Minnesota, which was Mondale's home state.

Ferraro went on to unsuccessfully run twice for the U.S. Senate, but remained on the United Nation's Commission on Human Rights under the Clinton administration. She died in 2011.

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