On September 26, 1786, protestors shut down the court in Springfield, Massachusetts, beginning a military standoff and ushering in Shays’ Rebellion. This anti-tax revolt spurred a dramatic reaction on the part of the day’s politicians, including their attempts to reform the Articles of Confederation and to figure out better ways than high state taxes to pay off Revolutionary War debts. These efforts directly led to the adoption of a new Constitution.
Three years later, to the day, Thomas Jefferson was appointed the first United States Secretary of State, John Jay (pictured) was appointed the first Chief Justice of the United States, Samuel Osgood was appointed the first United States Postmaster General, and Edmund Randolph was appointed the first United States Attorney General — all under the new Constitution.
In 1960 on this date, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon engaged in the first televised presidential campaign debates.
September 26 is celebrated, by some who know history, as “Petrov Day,” after Yevgrafovich Petrov, who on this day in 1983 may have saved civilization by resorting to hunch. While serving as a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, he took the initiative to downgrade information from the USSR’s computerized early warning missile defense system that the United States had initiated a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union. He interpreted the warning as a false alarm. His hunch was correct; the U.S. had not initiated a first strike: the data he had received was misleading. A later investigation determined it was the result of high altitutde cloud interference with a satelite view of a U.S. Air Force base. Petrov was not rewarded for his decision, however. His decision showed up the military higher-ups and scientists to have concocted an extremely faulty system, so a reward would also have required some sort of punishment. He retired soon after with a very, very small pension.
Petrov died on May 19, 2017.