John Wesley charters first Methodist Church in U.S.

On February 28, 1784, John Wesley charters the first Methodist Church in the United States. Despite the fact that he was an Anglican, Wesley saw the need to provide church structure for his followers after the Anglican Church abandoned its American believers during the American Revolution.

Wesley first brought his evangelical brand of methodical Anglicanism to colonial Georgia from 1735 to 1737 in the company of his brother Charles, with whom he had founded the ascetic Holy Club at Oxford University. This first venture onto American soil was not a great success. Wesley became embittered from a failed love affair and was unable to win adherents to his studious practices. However, while in Georgia, he became acquainted with the German Moravians, who hoped to establish a settlement in the colony. The meeting proved momentous, as it was at a Moravian meeting upon his return to London that Wesley felt he had a true experience of God’s grace.

While closely allied to the Moravians, Wesley began taking the advice of fellow Oxford graduate George Whitfield and preaching in the open air when banned from Anglican churches for his unorthodox evangelical methods. By 1739, Wesley had separated himself from the Moravians and attracted his own group of adherents, known as Methodists, who were held in disdain by the orthodox Anglican clerical and civic hierarchy. By 1744, the Methodists had become a large enough group to require their own conference of ministers, which expanded to create an internal hierarchy, replicating some of the Anglican Church’s ecclesiastical order.

Wesley, however, remained within the Anglican fold and insisted that only ministers who had received the apostolic succession—the laying on of hands by an Anglican bishop to consecrate a new priest—could administer the sacraments. The refusal of the Anglican church to ordain Dr. Thomas Coke to preach to Americans newly independent from the British State Church, finally forced Wesley to ordain within his own Methodist conference in the absence of a proper Anglican bishop. He performed the laying on of hands and not only ordained Coke as the superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America but also commissioned him to ordain Francis Asbury as his co-superintendent.

Gorbachev calls for nuclear weapons treaty

In a surprising announcement, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev indicates that his nation is ready to sign “without delay” a treaty designed to eliminate U.S. and Soviet medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe. Gorbachev’s offer led to a breakthrough in negotiations and, eventually, to the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in December 1987.

Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan had been wrestling with the issue of nuclear arms reduction in Europe since 1985, when they first met face-to-face to discuss the matter. A subsequent meeting in 1986 started with high hopes for an agreement, but the discussions broke down when Gorbachev linked the issue of the elimination of U.S. and Soviet INF in Europe to U.S. termination of its development of the Strategic Defense Initiative (the so-called “Star Wars” anti-missile defense system). However, both Reagan and Gorbachev faced pressures to reach a settlement. Reagan was under assault by “no-nuke” forces both in the United States and in western Europe. By late 1986 and early 1987, he was also faced with the fallout from the Iran-Contra scandal, when his administration had become involved in illegal arms dealings with both Iran and the Contra forces in Central America. Gorbachev wanted to achieve a cut in nuclear armaments, both to bolster his prestige on the world stage and to provide some much-needed relief for a Soviet economy sagging under the burden of massive military expenditures.

READ MORE: Why Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ Defense Plan Remained Science Fiction

In February 1987, Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union was willing to proceed with negotiations on the INF Treaty. This time, he suggested that “the problem of medium-range missiles in Europe be singled out from the package of issues and that a separate agreement on it be concluded, and without delay.” In other words, he was dropping his insistence on including SDI in the negotiations. The timing of Gorbachev’s offer was interesting to many observers in the United States. Some suggested that it was not coincidental that his statement was released just days after a high-level presidential review board had issued a stinging report critical of the Reagan administration’s involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal. Perhaps, they concluded, Gorbachev felt that Reagan would be anxious for a settlement. The two men met in December 1987 and signed the INF Treaty, by which the Soviets eliminated about 1,500 medium-range missiles from Europe and the United States removed nearly half that number.

Final episode of M*A*S*H airs

On February 28, 1983, the celebrated sitcom M*A*S*H bows out after 11 seasons, airing a special two-and-a-half hour episode watched by 77 percent of the television viewing audience. It was the largest percentage ever to watch a single TV show up to that time.

Set near Seoul, Korea, behind the American front lines during the Korean War, M*A*S*H was based on the 1968 novel by Richard Hooker and the 1970 film produced by 20th Century Fox and directed by Robert Altman. Its title came from the initials for the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, an isolated compound that received wounded soldiers and was staffed by the show’s cast of doctors and nurses. 

At the heart of M*A*S*H were the surgeons Dr. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda) and Dr. “Trapper” John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers); these roles were played in the Altman movie by Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, respectively. Hawkeye and Trapper’s foils on the TV show were Dr. Frank Burns (Larry Linville) and Senior Nurse Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Loretta Swit), who disapproved of the surgeons’ boozing, womanizing and disregard for military authority. Other key characters in the series were the bumbling camp commander, Lt. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) and his clerk and right-hand-man, Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff).

M*A*S*H premiered on the CBS television network in September 1972. Under threat of cancellation during its first season because of low ratings, the show turned things around the following year, landing in the top 10 in the ratings and never dropping out of the top 20 for the rest of its run. While the show began as a thinly veiled critique of the Vietnam War, its focus switched to more character-driven plotlines after that war’s anti-climactic end, allowing the series to continue to hold the public’s attention as it developed. In the middle of the show’s tenure, Alda began to take more and more creative control, co-writing 13 episodes and directing more than 30, including the series finale. Alda became the first person ever to win Emmy Awards for acting, directing and writing for the same show.

Elements such as long-range and tracking camera shots as well as sophisticated editing techniques distinguished M*A*S*H from more traditional TV sitcoms. From the beginning, the influence of Altman’s movie was evident in the cinematic nature of the show’s camera work. In addition, each half-hour episode of M*A*S*H contained a signature mixture of dramatic and comedic plot lines, and its success marked the rise of a new genre of TV show dubbed “dramedy.”

After earning consistently high ratings throughout its 11-year run, M*A*S*H enjoyed enduring popularity in the following decades, as it became one of the world’s most syndicated shows. It also spawned an unsuccessful spin-off, AfterMASH, which CBS aired from 1983 to 1985.

Congress creates Colorado Territory

With the region’s population booming because of the Pike’s Peak gold rush, Congress creates the new Territory of Colorado.

When the United States acquired it after the Mexican War ended in 1848, the land that would one day become Colorado was nearly unpopulated by Anglo settlers. Ute, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and other Native Americans had occupied the land for centuries, but the Europeans who had made sporadic appearances there since the 17th century never stayed for long. It was not until 1851 that the first permanent non-Indian settlement was established, in the San Luis Valley.

As with many other western regions, though, the lure of gold launched the first major Anglo invasion. In July 1858, a band of prospectors working streambeds near modern-day Denver found tiny flecks of gold in their pans. Since the gold-bearing streams were located in the foothills not far from the massive mountain named for the explorer Zebulon Pike, the subsequent influx of hopeful miners was termed the Pike’s Peak gold rush. By the spring of 1859, an estimated 50,000 gold seekers had reached this latest of a long series of American El Dorados.

As the first gold-bearing streams to be discovered played out, prospectors moved westward into the rugged slopes of the Rocky Mountains in search of new finds. Wherever sizeable deposits were discovered, ramshackle mining camps like Central City, Nevadaville, and Black Hawk appeared, sometimes almost overnight. Meanwhile, out on the flat plains at the edge of the mountains, Denver became the central supply town for the miners.

Although few miners came to Colorado planning to stay long, they were eager to protect their property rights and gold dust. Far from the seats of eastern government, the miners and townspeople cobbled together their own simple governments, usually revolving around a miners’ court that regulated claims. Technically lacking in any genuine legal foundation, the miners’ courts did maintain the minimal order needed for the mineral exploitation of the territory to continue.

The unreliable mining operations soon gave way to larger, highly capitalized and relatively permanent lode mining operations. The pioneers recognized that the vast mineral resources of the Rockies could form the foundation of a thriving new state, but the people settling there needed a more formal system of laws and government. The Congressional designation of new western states and territories had been bogged down for several years as southern and northern politicians fought over whether slavery would be permitted in the new western regions. By 1861, the South had seceded, clearing the way for the northern politicians to begin creating free-labor states. 

Tyler narrowly escapes death on the USS Princeton

On February 28, 1844, President John Tyler cruises the Potomac with 400 others aboard the U.S. Navy’s new steam frigate USS Princeton, not realizing that his life will soon be in danger. In attendance that day were political dignitaries and their guests, which included the wealthy New Yorker David Gardiner and his two daughters. The 54-year-old Tyler, a recent widower, had fallen for Gardiner’s youngest, the lovely 20-year-old Julia, to whom he had proposed marriage. She had not yet responded.

READ MORE: Why John Tyler May Be the Most Reviled President Ever

The Princeton carried a brand new 12-inch, 27,000-pound cannon called the Peacemaker. The gun’s co-designer, John Ericsson, argued with the ship’s captain, who wanted to demonstrate the new weapon, over whether it was safe to discharge because he feared it had not been sufficiently tested. Days before the cruise, Captain Robert Stockton had boasted about the Navy’s new ship and armament, which he had helped design, to congressmen and reporters. He and the crew were eager to show off the cannon’s ferocity, and despite Ericsson’s warnings, Stockton insisted on firing the cannon during the Potomac cruise. The first two successful and ear-splitting volleys sent the crowd into wild applause.

Halfway through the cruise, President Tyler, below deck, proposed a toast to the three great guns: the Princeton, her Commander and the Peacemaker. Then the secretary of war asked for a third firing toward Mount Vernon in honor of George Washington. Stockton may have recalled Ericsson’s concerns or thought it best not to push their luck with the new cannon, because he initially refused the secretary’s request. In the end, though, he bowed to his superior’s wishes and gave the order to fire.

The third round proved deadly. In the worst peacetime disaster of its time, the cannon exploded, killing several aboard, including Julia’s father and two members of Tyler’s cabinet. Tyler was halfway up the ladder to the upper deck when the explosion occurred. Julia Gardiner fainted when she heard of her father’s death and, after the ship docked, Tyler whisked her off to safety in his arms. Julia’s admiration for Tyler deepened into love and they were married later that year.