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John’s Believe It Or Not… March 14th

* 1808 – Lower Canada Assembly expels Ezekiel Hart for substituting “Jewish” for “Christian” in his oath of office. * 1879 Albert Einstein born * 1964 Jack Ruby sentenced to death * 1991 Birmingham Six released * 1948 Billy Crystal is born

Albert Einstein with a memorable quote about two things that are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.

It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did You Know…

* 1808 – Lower Canada Assembly expels Ezekiel Hart for substituting “Jewish” for “Christian” in his oath of office.

Ezekiel (Ezechiel) Hart, businessman, seigneur, militia­­ officer, politician (born 15 May 1770 in Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada [Québec]; died 16 September 1843 in Trois-Rivières). A respected businessman and militia officer, Ezekiel Hart was the first Jewish person to be elected to public office in the British Empire. However, though he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada in 1807 and again 1808, he was expelled both times due to the argument that, as a Jew, he was unable to take the (Christian) oath of office. His sons played an important role in the Emancipation Act of 1832, which gave full political and civil rights to Jewish citizens of Lower Canada — about 25 years before the United Kingdom itself.

In 1807, Hart won a by-election in Trois-Rivières, leading to an important political episode and controversy. In the vote, which was held to replace Lees, who had died that year, there were four candidates: Mathew Bell, Thomas Coffin, Pierre Vézina and Ezekiel Hart. Historian Benjamin Sulte relates that “judge Foucher, assemblyman [for Trois-Rivières], started off the affair with a rather long speech entirely partial to Coffin.” According to legal historian David Fraser, Foucher questioned Hart’s eligibility to sit in the Assembly as he could not take the Christian oath of office. At the first show of hands, Vézina had the fewest votes and immediately withdrew in favor of Coffin. Hart nonetheless took the lead, with 59 of 116 votes. Coffin, with 41, and Bell, with 16, in turn, withdrew before the day was ended. It was Saturday, 11 April 1807. Hart, the successful candidate, was asked by the returning officer to sign certain documents but, in great embarrassment (according to Sulte), he requested that the signing be delayed until the Sabbath was over. When pressed, he simply signed, “Ezekiel Hart, 1807,” disregarding the customary (Christian) declaration “in the year of our Lord.”

As the legislative session in Québec City was coming to an end, Hart had to wait until a new one began on 29 January 1808 before he could be sworn in. Foucher and Hart, who had been opponents in the Trois-Rivières riding, now found themselves together at the Legislative Assembly, and both were in serious difficulties. The two men were regarded as politicians favoring the Château Clique, or the “English party,” and their right to sit in the Assembly was contested by the members of the Parti Canadien, who were anxious to secure a stable majority for themselves. The Parti Canadien, therefore, decided to expel both Foucher and Hart from the Assembly — Foucher, the judge, on the grounds that he could not pass laws and see to their enforcement, and Hart, the Jew, because he had not taken the prescribed oath. Following a lively debate, Hart was expelled from the assembly by a resolution. Paradoxically, Hart, who had been elected in a riding with mostly French Canadian and Catholic voters, was expelled by an Assembly controlled by a majority that was also French Canadian and Catholic. Yet some supporters of the “English party” also voted for his expulsion, including Attorney General Jonathan Sewell, who based his decision on interpretation of the law.

The resolution mentioned that Hart was of the Jewish religion and that he had “taken the Oath in the manner customary only for persons of that persuasion.” Hart had, in fact, put his hand on his head and substituted the word “Jewish” for “Christian.” In the debate, proponents of Hart’s expulsion emphasized that a Jew does not believe in the New Testament, which is an integral part of the Bible. In short, Hart had taken an oath that was deemed invalid. This reason, which some thought a pretext, was used to justify his expulsion.

Hart protested, in vain, and had to return home. In any event, the session was coming to an end. As four years had passed since the last general election, Governor Sir James Henry Craig dissolved the House on 27 April 1808.

In the following elections, Hart again received 59 votes. Judge Foucher was fourth with 32, while Joseph Badeaux obtained one more vote than Pierre Vézina. This time Hart took the oath “in the Christian manner.” Nevertheless, the debate resumed when the Legislative Assembly opened on 10 April 1809. On 19 April, after several votes, the assembly resolved that Hart was the same person who had already been expelled “as he professes the Jewish religion.” In the end, he was denied the right to his seat in the legislature because of his religion.

News clipping about Ezekiel Hart, one of the first generation of Jewish Canadians, and the first Jew to be elected to public office in the British Empire.
News clipping about Ezekiel Hart, one of the first generation of Jewish Canadians, and the first Jew to be elected to public office in the British Empire. (Juifs d’ici)

* 1879 Albert Einstein born

On March 14, 1879, Albert Einstein is born, the son of a Jewish electrical engineer in Ulm, Germany. Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity drastically altered man’s view of the universe and his work in particle and energy theory helped make possible quantum mechanics and, ultimately, the atomic bomb.

After a childhood in Germany and Italy, Einstein studied physics and mathematics at the Federal Polytechnic Academy in Zurich, Switzerland. He became a Swiss citizen and in 1905 was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Zurich while working at the Swiss patent office in Bern. That year, which historians of Einstein’s career call the annus mirabilis–the “miracle year”–he published five theoretical papers that were to have a profound effect on the development of modern physics.

In the first of these, titled “On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light,” Einstein theorized that light is made up of individual quanta (photons) that demonstrate particle-like properties while collectively behaving like a wave. The hypothesis, an important step in the development of quantum theory, was arrived at through Einstein’s examination of the photoelectric effect, a phenomenon in which some solids emit electrically charged particles when struck by light. This work would later earn him the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics.

In the second paper, he devised a new method of counting and determining the size of the atoms and molecules in a given space, and in the third, he offered a mathematical explanation for the constant erratic movement of particles suspended in a fluid, known as Brownian motion. These two papers provided indisputable evidence of the existence of atoms, which at the time was still disputed by a few scientists.

Einstein’s fourth groundbreaking scientific work of 1905 addressed what he termed his special theory of relativity. In special relativity, time and space are not absolute, but relative to the motion of the observer. Thus, two observers traveling at great speeds in regard to each other would not necessarily observe simultaneous events in time at the same moment, nor necessarily agree in their measurements of space. In Einstein’s theory, the speed of light, which is the limiting speed of any body having mass, is constant in all frames of reference. In the fifth paper that year, an exploration of the mathematics of special relativity, Einstein announced that mass and energy were equivalent and could be calculated with an equation, E=mc2.

Although the public was not quick to embrace his revolutionary science, Einstein was welcomed into the circle of Europe’s most eminent physicists and given professorships in Zýrich, Prague, and Berlin. In 1916, he published “The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity,” which proposed that gravity, as well as motion, can affect the intervals of time and of space. According to Einstein, gravitation is not a force, as Isaac Newton had argued, but a curved field in the space-time continuum, created by the presence of mass. An object of very large gravitational mass, such as the sun, would, therefore, appear to warp space and time around it, which could be demonstrated by observing starlight as it skirted the sun on its way to earth. In 1919, astronomers studying a solar eclipse verified predictions Einstein made in the general theory of relativity, and he became an overnight celebrity. Later, other predictions of general relativity, such as a shift in the orbit of the planet Mercury and the probable existence of black holes, were confirmed by scientists.

During the next decade, Einstein made continued contributions to quantum theory and began work on a unified field theory, which he hoped would encompass quantum mechanics and his own relativity theory as a grand explanation of the workings of the universe. As a world-renowned public figure, he became increasingly political, taking up the cause of Zionism and speaking out against militarism and rearmament. In his native Germany, this made him an unpopular figure, and after Nazi leader Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933 Einstein renounced his German citizenship and left the country.

He later settled in the United States, where he accepted a post at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He would remain there for the rest of his life, working on his unified field theory and relaxing by sailing on a local lake or playing his violin. He became an American citizen in 1940.

In 1939, despite his lifelong pacifist beliefs, he agreed to write to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on behalf of a group of scientists who were concerned with American inaction in the field of atomic-weapons research. Like the other scientists, he feared sole German possession of such a weapon. He played no role, however, in the subsequent Manhattan Project and later deplored the use of atomic bombs against Japan. After the war, he called for the establishment of a world government that would control nuclear technology and prevent future armed conflict.

In 1950, he published his unified field theory, which was quietly criticized as a failure. A unified explanation of gravitation, subatomic phenomena, and electromagnetism remains elusive today. Albert Einstein, one of the most creative minds in human history, died in Princeton in 1955.

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein (universoracionalista.org)

* 1964 Jack Ruby sentenced to death

Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who killed Lee Harvey Oswald–the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy–is found guilty of the “murder with malice” of Oswald and sentenced to die in the electric chair. It was the first courtroom verdict to be televised in U.S. history.

On November 24, 1963, two days after Kennedy’s assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald was brought to the basement of the Dallas police headquarters on his way to a more secure county jail. A crowd of police and press with live television cameras rolling gathered to witness his departure. As Oswald came into the room, Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd and fatally wounded him with a single shot from a concealed .38 revolver. Ruby, who was immediately detained, claimed he was distraught over the president’s assassination. Some called him a hero, but he was nonetheless charged with first-degree murder.

Jack Ruby, originally known as Jacob Rubenstein, operated strip joints and dance halls in Dallas and had minor connections to organized crime. He also had a relationship with a number of Dallas policemen, which amounted to various favors in exchange for leniency in their monitoring of his establishments. He features prominently in Kennedy-assassination theories, and many believe he killed Oswald to keep him from revealing a larger conspiracy. In his trial, Ruby denied the allegation and pleaded innocent on the grounds that his great grief over Kennedy’s murder had caused him to suffer “psychomotor epilepsy” and shoot Oswald unconsciously. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to die.

In October 1966, the Texas Court of Appeals reversed the decision on the grounds of improper admission of testimony and the fact that Ruby could not have received a fair trial in Dallas at the time. In January 1967, while awaiting a new trial to be held in Wichita Falls, Ruby died of lung cancer in a Dallas hospital.

The official Warren Commission report of 1964 concluded that neither Oswald nor Ruby were part of a larger conspiracy, either domestic or international, to assassinate President Kennedy. Despite its seemingly firm conclusions, the report failed to silence conspiracy theories surrounding the event, and in 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in a preliminary report that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy” that may have involved multiple shooters and organized crime. The committee’s findings, as with those of the Warren Commission, continue to be widely disputed.

Jack Ruby with gun pointing at Lee Harvey Oswald, flanked by police officers
Jack Ruby with gun pointing at Lee Harvey Oswald, flanked by police officers (elconfidencial.com)

* 1991 Birmingham Six released

In the face of widespread questioning of their guilt, British authorities release the so-called “Birmingham Six,” six Irish men who had been sent to prison 16 years earlier for the 1974 terrorist bombings of two Birmingham, England, pubs.

On November 21, 1974, two Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombs exploded in two separate Birmingham pubs, killing 21 people and injuring hundreds. The bombing attacks were part of the ongoing conflict between the British government and the IRA over the status of Northern Ireland. Days after the Birmingham bombings, the British government outlawed the IRA in all the United Kingdom, and authorities rushed to arrest and convict the IRA members responsible. Six Irish suspects were arrested and sent to interrogation, where four of them signed confessions. The IRA, which claimed responsibility for the Birmingham bombings, declared that the six were not members of its organization.

During the subsequent trial, the defendants maintained their innocence, claiming that police had beaten the confessions out of them. Prosecutors denied this and also came up with forensic evidence that apparently proved that the Birmingham Six had handled explosives shortly before their arrest. They were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

In 1985, the forensic evidence was exposed by scientists as unreliable at best, and in 1987 an appeals judge conceded that the same results could be obtained from testing people who recently touched playing cards or cigarette paper. However, it was not until March 1991, with people across Britain and Ireland calling for their release, that the Birmingham Six were freed after years in prison. Seven years later, a British court of appeals formally overturned their sentences, citing serious doubts about the legitimacy of the police evidence and the treatment of the suspects during their interrogation.

Birmingham Six group round microphone outside Old Bailey
Birmingham Six group round microphone outside Old Bailey (RTE)

* 1948 Billy Crystal is born

On this day in 1948, the comedian and actor Billy Crystal, who will become known for his starring roles in such movies as When Harry Met Sally… and City Slickers is born in Long Beach, California.

Crystal began performing in comedy clubs as a teenager; after graduating from New York University’s film school, he formed his own comedy troupe, 3’s Company. As a young stand-up comic, Crystal opened for acts like the singer Barry Manilow and was particularly known for his impression of the sportscaster Howard Cosell interviewing Muhammad Ali. After setting off for Hollywood, Crystal landed the role of Jodie Dallas, one of the first openly gay characters on television, on Soap (1977-81). Though his first film, Rabbit Test (1978)–in which he played the world’s first pregnant man–flopped, Crystal’s star kept rising. His popular live performances and regular appearances on TV’s Saturday Night Live landed him roles in a string of movies, including Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap (1984), Running Scared (1986) and The Princess Bride (1987), and Throw Momma From the Train (1987). In 1989, he made his highest-profile star turn yet, playing opposite Meg Ryan in the hit romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally…, also directed by Reiner.

In 1990, Crystal won over audiences with his first Oscar hosting gig, performing silly songs based on the nominated films and popping up in film-clip montages. He would host the ceremony seven more times (1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2004), along with a number of other events, including the Grammy Awards and the HBO benefit series Comic Relief, alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams. Crystal scored his biggest movie hit to date in 1991, playing a radio executive going through a mid-life crisis in City Slickers (1991), which he also executive-produced. The film’s success led to a memorable moment at the 1992 Oscars, when Crystal’s 73-year-old co-star, Jack Palance, dropped to the stage to perform one-armed pushups when accepting his statuette for Best Supporting Actor. As emcee that night, Crystal wrung maximum comedic potential about the incident with his follow-up jokes. The film’s sequel, City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, came out in 1994.

Crystal had less success with his next producing and acting effort, the ambitious 1992 film Mr. Saturday Night, which he also directed. In the film, Crystal played the stand-up comedian Buddy Young Jr., a character he had originated in 1984 and later portrayed on Saturday Night Live, among other shows. Mr. Saturday Night received mixed reviews and was a failure at the box office. In 1995, Crystal wrote, directed, produced and starred in Forget Paris, a romantic comedy co-starring Debra Winger; the film was a critical and commercial disappointment.

Crystal appeared in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) and Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry (1997), but another producing effort, 1998’s My Giant, also flopped. He came back strong, however, with 1999’s blockbuster hit Analyze This, as a therapist who counsels a mob boss, played by Robert De Niro. A sequel, Analyze That, was released in 2002. In between those big-screen successes, Crystal earned an Emmy Award nomination for directing the HBO movie 61*, about the home run race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961; the project was driven by Crystal’s longtime love of baseball. He also wrote and co-starred in the Hollywood-skewering comedy America’s Sweethearts and provided the voice of one of the lead characters in the animated hit Monsters, Inc., all in 2001.

After a three-year absence, Crystal returned to his Oscar hosting duties in 2004, for the eighth time. He was reportedly offered the Oscar hosting gig for the 2006 ceremony but turned it down to concentrate on his autobiographical one-man show, 700 Sundays, on Broadway. Attendance was so good that the show’s run was extended past its original booking; it also won a Tony Award for Best Theatrical Event. That same year, Crystal became a best-selling children’s book author with the release of I Already Know I Love You (2006), based on his experiences with the birth of his first granddaughter.

Billy Crystal
Billy Crystal (Alchetron)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                  http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/ezekiel-hart/

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

                       

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

19 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… March 14th”

  1. Billy Crystal represented all that was good and funny. I enjoyed his movies. At the time of the Kennedy assassination, we all wondered about Jack Ruby. Seemed a little too pat to have a guy walk in and blast Oswald. (In full view of the police who knew him.) Good issue, John

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t believe any of the official report on the JFK assassination. However, I’m also sure that we’ll never know the truth. Thanks, John.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had no idea about the House Select Committee on Assassinations preliminary report in which Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy” Interesting that they would admit that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If we think corruption is bad now, it was rampant decades ago. Jack Ruby and the Birmingham six are cases in point. I thoroughly enjoyed the Einstein post. And, who doesn’t love Billy Crystal? Thank you, John!

    Liked by 1 person

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