Independence – Argentina

July 9

In the two decades between 1804 and 1824 the Spain lost an area of land in Latin America nearly 20 times its own size.

One of Spain’s largest provinces was Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, which encompassed what is now Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The Rio de la Plata (River of Silver) is the widest estuary in the world, forming the border between Argentina and Uruguay. Like the river, Argentina itself is named for the precious metal once so prevalent on its shores. Tierra Argentina is Latin for “Land of Silver”.

As Spain pushed French invaders out of its own borders, liberadores Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín sought to do the same to the Spanish in South America.Bolívar fought the Spanish in the north of the continent while San Martín gathered and led the rebel armies in the south. Between 1813 and 1824 SanMartín’s armies repelled royalist forces from Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador. He became known as the liberator of Chile, the Protector of Peru, and the national hero of Argentina, which honors him with his own holiday on August 17, the anniversary of his death.

San Martin crosses the Andes
San Martin crosses the Andes

Argentina’s national day doesn’t celebrate one of San Martín’s decisive battles, but the adoption of the 1816 Acta de Independencia by the Congress at Tucuman. After Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814, the Spanish were able to turn their full attention to the rebelling colonies overseas. In the Spring of 1816 representatives from towns throughout the Rio de la Plata gathered in San Miguel de Tucuman to discuss their political fate. Tucuman in Northern Argentina was chosen for its central location and also to downplay the resentment other territories felt toward the centralist, urban Buenos Aires. The Congress met in the home of the Bazan family, now the Casa Historica de la Independencia museum.

Casa de Tucuman
Casa de Tuchman

The Congress was unable to come up with a satisfactory answer for what form a future government would take. But on July 9, when the question of Independence arose…

“At once, animated by a holy love of justice, each and every delegate successively announced his spontaneous decision in favor of the independence of the country, signing in consequence the following declaration.

“We, the representatives of the United Provinces of South America, assembled in a general congress, invoking the God who presides over the universe, in the name and by the authority of the people whom we represent, and proclaiming to heaven and to all nations and peoples of the earth the justice of our intentions, declare solemnly to the world that the unanimous wish of these provinces is to sever the oppressive bonds which connect them with the kings of Spain, to recover the rights of which were deprived, and to assume the exalted position of a nation free and independent of Ferdinand VII, of his successors and of the metropolis of Spain.

San Martín pledged to support the Acta de Independencia the following month. He marched his troops over the Andes, joined forces with the Chileans, and defeated the Spanish forces there in 1818, effectively ending Spanish occupation in the southern half of South America.

anti-Valentine’s Day in Russia?

July 8

From Q++ Worldwide Public Holidays

“Russia’s First Lady, Svetlana Medvedeva, is chairing a comittee to celebrate July 8th as a Russian “anti-Valentine’s Day”, with emphasis on family, mariage and long-term faithfulness, rather than what she (and many in Russia) considers the shallowness of Saint-Valentine’s celebration of short-term infatuation.

“If this year’s first July 8 celebration of SS. Piotr and Fevronia (two 13th century Russian Orthodox Saints who were married and buried in the same coffin) is a success, Mrs. Medvedev has promised to make it an official public holiday in Russia.”

Here lies (and cheats) Soapy Smith

July 8

Every July 8th, citizens of Skagway, Alaska, hold a wake for a citizen who died on this day in 1898: Jefferson Randolph ‘Soapy’ Smith, the “king of the frontier confidence men.”

Soapy Smith, 1860-1898
Soapy Smith, 1860-1898

Smith got his nickname Soapy from an old scam he played selling soap to miners in Colorado.

It’s hard to believe someone so concerned about the hygiene of his fellow men could get such a bad rep. But you see, Smith wrapped bars of soap in $20 to $50 bills in front of the miners, then double wrapped those in brown paper, claiming that one in ten bars had been wrapped in money. Miners would pay $5 for a nickel’s worth of soap to try their luck.

Miraculously, no one ever won the big bills. Soapy was a master at sleight-of-hand, a skill he picked up in his teens playing the “shell game” with peas and thimbles in back in Texas.

But it was in Denver that Soapy made his real mark. With his “earnings” he opened a gambling establishment known as the Tivoli Club, and organized a gang of pickpockets, muggers, disbarred lawyers, and bribed politicians.

Soapy was as good with words and he was with his hands. Once when Denver authorities brought him to trial, he explained that the Tivoli Club performed a public service, curing gamblers of their addiction, by ensuring they lost. And the court acquitted him.

When the Klondike Gold Rush began, Soapy made his way up north to Alaska, but he let others do the digging.

Smith opened his own parlor and within a few months the 38 year-old was running the town, with a supporting cast of the unusual suspects.

A typical scam: Smith had a monopoly on the local telegraph and charged $5 to send messages. Only the telegraph wasn’t connected to anything but the wall. (Skagway didn’t get a real telegraph office until 1901.)

His last swindle involved a prospector named John Stewart, who made the mistake of walking into Smith’s Parlor with a bag of $2700 (in 1898 dollars) in gold. When Stewart’s money was stolen by men in Smith’s parlor, Stewart took his cause to anyone who would listen. A group known as the Committee of 101, which had been after Smith for years, held a meeting to stop him for good. Smith tried breaking into the meeting with a Winchester, but was stopped by the city surveyor Frank Reid. A gun battle ensued, and Smith died on the spot, bullet through the heart. Reid died 12 days later.

Though not an official holiday, the traditional toast to Soapy Smith is held by the residents of Skagway—and for some reason at Hollywood’s Magic Castle—at 9:15 pm each July 8th, the approximate time of Smith’s death.

Soapy’s wakes may lack the reverence of others, but as wakes go, it’s supposed to be one hell of a party.


Soapy Smith: Con Man’s Empire –

Soapy Smith’s Soap Box –

Alias Soapy Smith –

Running of the Bulls – Encierro

July 7 (St. Fermin’s Day)

14 people have been killed in the San Fermin Running of the Bulls since 1924, when they began counting. To give you an idea of the scope of the mayhem, that’s almost equal to the number of people killed by vending machines in the U.S. since 2001.

Running with the Bulls (aka the Encierro) has been a Pamplona tradition for centuries. Local organizers remind tourists to take safety precautions and warn them of the potential for serious injury. The warnings are often shrugged off, but last year two California brothers got the point in the end.Protesters aren’t so concerned with injuries to humans, but with cruelty to animals. 40,000 bulls are killed by the bullfighting industry each year in Europe. These and other facts about bullfighting are ‘exposed’ during PETA’s Running of the Nudes, which coincides with the festival each year.

Who knows which Run the good Saint Fermin would prefer?


Q: So who is this Saint Fermin anyway, and what does he have to do with bulls?

A: St. Fermin was the son of a Roman senator in Pamplona. He converted to Christianity, was named a Bishop in Amiens, returned to Pamplona to lead his flock, and was martyred back in Amiens in 303 AD. He was actually beheaded, not slaughtered by bulls. And in September, not July.

It was his predecessor Bishop Saturninus of Toulouse who had the honor of being tied to a bull by his legs and dragged to his death. The two saints’ martyrdoms are sometimes confused because of Fermin’s association with the Encierro.

The tradition of honoring St. Fermin in Pamplona dates back to 1186, though the liturgical festival was originally in October. It was moved to July 7 in 1591 to coincide with the summer market fairs and bull ceremonies.

The Martyrdom of Saturninus of Toulouse

So if you’re running with the bulls this week, stretch beforehand, wear good shoes, and be careful where you slip.

[Also on July 7: the Japanese celebrate Tanabata, the reunion of the lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi—stars in the heavens who are permitted to visit each other one day of the year—the seventh day of the seventh month. People create beautiful origami in their honor and write wishes on tanzuku to send up to the two briefly reunited lovers.]

Jan Hus – Czech Republic

July 6

It’s a busy week in the Czech Republic, where inhabitants celebrate not one, but two public holidays in honor of not two, but three prominent theologians. Yesterday Czechs and Slovaks alike honored the Saints Cyril and Methodius, and today Czechs recall national hero Jan Hus, the forerunner of Protestant Reformation who was burnt at the stake on this day in 1415.

Statue of Jan Hus in Prague

The late 14th century was not the best of times for the Papacy. Having just returned from 70 years in France, later called the “Babylonian captivity” of the Papacy, French cardinals were eager to elect another French Pope. Riotous Roman crowds had another idea. Under duress the cardinals elected a Neapolitan to the Papacy in 1378, then hightailed it back to France to elect the “real” French Pope. Of course both Popes retained the title, and governments around Europe were forced to declare allegiance to one or the other.

Jan Hus grew up in Bohemia during this tumultuous epoch. He studied at the recently-established University of Prague, becoming a professor of theology in 1398, a priest at Bethlehem Chapel two years later, and eventually rector of the University.

Hus was an outspoken proponent of church reform. At this time the Church owned nearly half the land in Bohemia, yet taxed the poor rampantly. Hus spoke out against abuses in the church, including the widespread indulgence system which undermined the sanctity of Christian piety. He supported the preaching and reading of the Bible in common languages, and he opposed the recent doctrine of Papal infallibilit. Most controversially, Hus made the ‘heretical’ claim that the final authority of Christian Law lay not with pope, but with the Bible.

In 1409, in an attempt to end the papal Schism, bishops at the Council of Pisa elected a third Pope (Alexander “the Antipope” V) to replace the other two. However, rather than resolve the Schism, this only resulted in three concurrent Popes.

Jan Hus and his supporter King Wenceslaus declared allegiance to the third Pope, but when Alexander V’s successor issued a new wave of indulgences to raise money for a war against the King of Naples, Hus proclaimed that no pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church. In rallying his followers against the indulgences, he also lost the support of King Wenceslaus who was sharing in the profits.

In 1414 Hus was asked to journey to Council of Constance (which sought to end the Schism once and for all), to which he was assured safe conduct by the Emperor of Luxembourg. When he arrived he found himself put on trial by the Council and imprisoned in Gottlieben Castle in chains. The bishops had convinced the Emperor that promises of safe conduct did not apply to heretics.

Hus was given many chances to recant his writings. He deplored false interpretations of his works, but stated he could not renounce beliefs unless they could be proven untrue by the words of the Holy Scripture. He was condemned to death in July 1415. Just before his execution he declared,

God is my witness that I have never taught that of which I have been accused by false witnesses. In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached I will die to-day with gladness.

Hus was also said to have uttered a prediction that in 100 years a man would come whose calls for reform could not be ignored, foreshadowing Martin Luther and the Protestant Revolution.

Spiezer Chronik's depiction of the death of Jan Hus, 1485

Hussitism and the Heritage of Jan Hus

John Huss, Priest and Martyr

John Hus: English Bible History

Jan Hus: Final Declaration

Saints Cyril & Methodius – Slovakia

July 5

St. Cyril and St. Methodius, the two missionary brothers who gave birth to the written Slovak language, are celebrated by the Eastern Catholic Church in May. (The exploits of the Brothers are detailed here.) But in the early 20th century the Roman Catholic feast day for the saints, held on July 5, took on a new importance.

After the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Slovaks around the world struggled to defend their national identity. When the Czechs declared July 6 a public holiday, in honor of 15th century Protestant forerunner Jan Hus, Slovaks pushed for the feast day of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, July 5, as a national celebration as well as religious one. Today it’s celebrated in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Gettin’ Glagolitic with Cyril & Methodius

Tynwald Day – Isle of Man

Usually July 5

Tynwald is the legislative body of the Isle of Man, located between England and Ireland in the Irish Sea. Founded in 979 AD, Tynwald is said to be the oldest continuously active parliament in the world. It is descended from the Norse thing–the Parliamentary body developed by the Vikings. Vikings settled on the previously island beginning in the eighth and ninth centuries, but the island maintained much of its Celtic heritage.

On Tynwald Day, the island’s national holiday, the parliament meets in an open air ceremony presided over by the Lieutenant Governor or the Lord of Mann. The British monarch is the official head of state (since Charlotte Murray, 8th Baroness Strange, sold the sovereignty of the Isle for £70,000 in 1765) but the Isle of Man is not a part of the United Kingdom. As Lord of Mann, Queen Elizabeth presided over Tynwald’s 1000th anniversary session in July 1979.

Ballakilleyclieu - Isle of Man © Jon Wornham,

Tynwald Day originally fell on Midsummer’s Day, June 24, in the Julian calendar. When the Isle of Man switched to the Gregorian calendar, they lost 11 days, but continued to celebrate its national day on June 24 Julian (July 5 Gregorian). As is the case this year, Tynwald Day is held the following Monday if the 5th falls on a weekend.

According to legend, the Isle of Man was once ruled by a Celtic sea god named Manannan, who would shroud the isle in his misty cloak to protect it from invaders. Residents paid tribute to the sea god in the form of bundles “of course meadow grass yearly, and that, as their yearly tax, they paid to him each midsummer eve.” —Mannanan Beg Mac y Leirr

Today the bundling of reeds is still a part of the Tynwald Day festivities.

America Is a Cancer

July 4

Born on July 4, 1776, America is—zodialogically speaking—a cancer. And had our forefathers been more astrologically attuned, our national symbol might have been the New England crab. Fortunately we settled on an eagle (though the turkey was a serious contender).

As everyone knows, the members of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia declared the 13 colonies of North America to be free and independent states in 1776, on that historic date, July 2nd.

That’s right, two days ago. You’re late for the party. You should have barbecued those hot dogs Friday. So what the heck were the forefathers doing between July 2 and July 4?

On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote his wife Abigail:

“Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony ‘that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States… (Letters of Members of the Continental Congress)

…The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival…It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this time forward forever more.” (American Historical Review)

Adams was two days off. The event that spawned his great anniversary Festival was yet to come.

On July 3 and 4 the Congress debated the language of the formal document declaring the reasons for the break, to be sent to England. They agreed on the final draft on July 4th, the date inscribed at the top.

Thomas Jefferson

The task of penning the document had fallen to a young Virginian named Thomas Jefferson. According to Adams…

Mr. Jefferson had been now about a Year a Member of Congress, but had attended his Duty in the House but a very small part of the time and when there had never spoken in public: and during the whole Time I satt with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three Sentences together. The most of a Speech he ever made in my hearing was a gross insult on Religion, in one or two Sentences, for which I gave him immediately the Reprehension, which he richly merited. (Diary and Autobiography of John Adams)

For all Jefferson’s fame, it has not been lost on historians that his Declaration of Independence bears much in common with the beginning of George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted by that state just one month earlier:

I. That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

Nor was it lost on Jefferson himself that the birth certificate of the nation was fraught with contradiction. Most notably, that despite acknowledging the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, and self-evident equality of all men, it made no effort to defend these rights among a large segment of the population currently being denied them. At least not in the final draft. Jefferson writes that prior to approval of the Declaration, the original clause…

…reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in compliance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our Northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under these censures; for tho’ their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others. (The Social Science Review, 1865)

The nation would have to wait nearly a hundred years to begin enforcing its own credo.

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress signed the Declaration and shipped it off to King George III.

Actually, no. Congress President John Hancock sent two copies of the Declaration to King George on July 5, 1776, printed with only his own name and that of Secretary Charles Thomson’s. But the Declaration wasn’t signed by the full Congress until August 2, and those names weren’t made public knowledge until the following year.

Today the Declaration of Independence is remembered as a whiny list of petty greivances scribbled by a band of traitors with absolutely no legitimate legal authority. Or, at least that’s how it might be remembered today had the insurrection been less successful.

As it is, we’ll wish this cancer a Happy 235th.

[In 1989 a man purchased a $4 painting at a flea market because he liked the frame. When he removed the picture, he found an original 1776 Dunlap Broadside Declaration of Independence print. It was appraised as one of the 3 best preserved of the 25 known to exist, and last sold in 2000 for $8 million.

So today, Americans, enjoy your hot dogs, your fireworks, and your independence, and maybe check out that flea market you’ve been eyeing…]

Text of Declaration of Independence

History of Declaration of Independence

8 Works of Art Found Accidentally

Epitaph: Apparently John Adams did have a soft spot for July 4 after all. Both he and Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the country’s 50th birthday.