John Chancellor

July 14

John Chancellor (1927)

It was on this date, July 14, 1927, that American news reporter, anchor, and NBC commentator John Chancellor was born in Chicago, Illinois. A high school drop-out, Chancellor got his first job as a copy boy at the Chicago Sun-Times. From there his assignments extended from the 1957 desegregation of Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, to panelist in the Nixon-Kennedy debates, to heading the Voice of America, to anchor for NBC Nightly News from 1970-82.

Boston Globe columnist Jack Thomas interviewed the newsman about his final struggle with cancer. Do you fear death? asked Thomas. "not as much as I would have thought..." replied Chancellor. What do you think will happen to you after death? asked Thomas. "I've been an agnostic for as long as I can remember," Chancellor replied, "so I don't know where we go. But if it turns out that the lights are just turned off and nothing happens, well, that's OK." John Chancellor died of cancer on 12 July 1996.

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James M. Whistler

James McNeill Whistler (1833)

It was also on this date, July 14, 1833, that American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. His father was an Army Major and Whistler himself was educated at West Point, from which he was dismissed. His Arrangement in Grey and Black (1871), better known as Whistler's Mother, was quintessentially American — yet the artist left the United States, never to return, at the age of twenty-one. He bounced between residences in Paris, where he studied art, and London, where achieved his greatest successes.

While in Paris, Whistler became an aggressive Atheist. In London his paintings got a better reception, in spite of harsh criticism from John Ruskin (against whom Whistler won a suit for libel). Whistler made a name for himself, not simply due to his talent, but also because of his flamboyant personality. The painter-designer and diplomat David Maitland Armstrong says, in his Reminiscences,* that Whistler was notorious for ridiculing the Bible and singing blasphemous songs.

Before he died in London, on 17 July 1903, Whistler was made a member of the French Légion d'Honneur. He was pragmatic and Rationalist about his art, saying:

Art should be independent of all claptrap — should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like. All these have no kind of concern with it, and that is why I insist on calling my works 'arrangements' and 'harmonies'."**
* David Maitland Armstrong, Day Before Yesterday: Reminiscences of a Varied Life, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920.
** The General Art of Making Enemies, 1890.

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Bastille Day

Bastille Day (1789)

Finally, on this date, July 14, 1789, French citizens stormed and destroyed the hated Bastille prison in Paris, ending a symbol of the human rights abuses by King Louis XVI and beginning the French Revolution. The destruction of the Bastille marked the end of absolute monarchy in France, the birth of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for all French citizens and, eventually, the creation of the First Republic.

The Revolution achieved popular support among the peasants, nobles (and even a few priests) because of a cruel tyranny under Church and State that kept the populace at 90% illiteracy, oppressed them with taxes, and denied them property ownership. To their credit, the leaders of the Revolution took no office in the succeeding government after 1791. The new Constitution treated the luxuriously and cynically corrupt Catholic Church better than it had treated the people. Bastille Day was declared the French national holiday on 6 July 1880.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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