Good News in History, January 1

251 years ago today, the hym that would become Amazing Grace, then known as “1 Chronicles 17:16–17”, was first used to accompany a sermon led by John Newton in the town of Olney, Buckinghamshire. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton’s and Cowper’s Olney Hymns, but settled into relative obscurity in England. READ How America took the hymn to its famous heights… (1773)

The hymns book with Amazing Grace

In the United States, “Amazing Grace” became a popular song used by Baptist and Methodist preachers as part of their evangelizing, especially in the American South, during the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century.

It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but it was in 1835 that American composer William Walker set it to the tune known as “New Britain” in a shape note format; this is the version most frequently sung today.

With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, “Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognisable songs in the English-speaking world. American historian Gilbert Chase writes that it is “without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns” and Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that the song is performed about 10 million times annually.

It has had particular influence in folk music, and has become an emblematic black spiritual. Its universal message has been a significant factor in its crossover into secular music. “Amazing Grace” became newly popular during the 1960s revival of American folk music, and it has been recorded thousands of times during and since the 20th century, by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Jeff Beck.

MORE Good News on this Date:

The importation of slaves into the United States was banned (1808)
President Abraham Lincoln signed an Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in US Confederate rebel states and leading to new attitudes about slavery (1863)
The United Nations Declaration was signed by 26 nations (1942)
Haiti became the first independent country in the West Indies (1804); Spanish rule ended in Cuba (1899); Italy embraced a Constitution (1948)
UN Cease-fire orders in Kashmir stopped the war between India and Pakistan (1949)
Gaining Independence: Republic of the Sudan (1956), Cameroon (1960), Western Samoa (1962), The Sultanate of Brunei (1984)
The feared Y2K computer bugs caused none of the problems predicted to arise with the new millennium date (2000)
Norwegian 19 year-old Magnus Carlsen, became the youngest chess grandmaster ever to top the world rankings (2010)

131 years ago today, Ellis Island opened as an immigration depot in the New York City harbor. Over 40 percent of the U.S. population—100 million Americans—can trace their roots back to this epic doorway.

17 million immigrants took their first steps towards freedom and opportunity at the Ellis Island processing center. CHECK Out a sampling of the amazing names recorded at Ellis Island—some of the greatest talents in literature, entertainment, politics, and science came through these halls after traveling across the ocean in search of a better life…. (1892)

Singer Enrico Caruso
Olympiad Johann Weismuller
Comedian Henry (Henny) Youngman
Circus founders John and Mabel Ringling
Composer – Conductors, Gustav Mahler and Arturo Toscanini
Physicians Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud
Filmmaker Charles Chaplin
Conductors Leopold Stokowski and Sergei Rachmaninoff
The ancestors of future presidents Woodrow Wilson, William H. Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover
Writers Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling
Irving Berlin, and the ancestors of famous songwriters George Gershwin, George M. Cohan, and Cole Porter
Albert Einstein

Also see Books about Ellis Island, here, on Amazon.

On this day in 1959, Johnny Cash played a free concert for the inmates of San Quentin prison.

Merle Haggard in 1971, public domain

In the audience was a 19-year-old guy named Merle Haggard, who was serving a 15-year sentence for armed robbery. Haggard was released on parole the following year after joining the prison’s country band, inspired by Cash. The singer–songwriter, guitarist, and fiddler went on to score 38 number-one hits on the country charts between the 1960s and the 80s.

And, 288 years ago today, Paul Revere was born in Boston.

The American silversmith, engraver, and Patriot in the American Revolution was immortalized for his midnight horseback ride to alert the colonial militia to the approach of British forces before the first shots rang out in Lexington and Concord. At age 41, Paul Revere was a prosperous Boston silversmith who supported independence for the American colonies and helped organize an intelligence network to keep watch on the British military.

Following the war, Revere returned to his silversmith trade, branched out, and, in 1800, he became the first American to successfully roll copper into sheets for use as sheathing on naval vessels. (1735)

122 years ago today, the Federation of Australia was born. The Constitution of Australia came into force, uniting the 6 colonies of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia under one federal government. The idea of being ‘Australian’ had been celebrated in songs and poems for decades; finally, a fireworks display in Sydney marked the political achievement with a sign that read ‘One people, one destiny.’

Edmund Barton (1902), and the reading of the Queen’s proclamation

As the six colonies had become inspired by other federations that had emerged around the world, such as the U.S. and Canada, their slogan became “a nation for a continent, and a continent for a nation”.

Each of the states kept their systems of government and legislatures, but they wanted a federal government that would be responsible for matters concerning the whole nation. Championing a national railway system, Sir Henry Parkes, the instrumental and persuasive Premier of the Colony of New South Wales was known as the “Father of Federation”, though he died before its fruition.

He said in his famous 1889 Tenterfield Oration, a speech that birthed the unification of a nation: “Surely what the Americans have done by war, Australians can bring about in peace.”

Sir Edmund Barton, a judge, was also instrumental to the process, and later inaugurated as the first prime minister. Barton, who was also a delegate to the constitutional conventions, played a key role in the drafting of a national constitution. He resigned as prime minister after 3 years to become a founding member of the High Court of Australia, where he served until his death. (1901)

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