1839 Lincoln reaches legal milestone On this day in 1839, future President Abraham Lincoln advances to another stage in his legal career when he is admitted to practice law in the U.S. Circuit Court. It was during his years practicing law that Lincoln honed his now famous oratorical skills. Lincoln made the first step toward becoming a lawyer in 1836 when the state of Illinois certified him as being “a person of good moral character.” (He did not attend law school but studied on his own while working as a clerk in a law office.) In 1838, he delivered closing arguments in the Jacob Early murder case, persuading the jury that his client, the defendant, had acted in self defense. In 1840, Lincoln was re-elected to the Illinois State Assembly—his third term since 1834—and by 1846 earned a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. By that time, Lincoln had begun to use his debate and speaking skills to help fellow Whigs campaign for state and national offices and, in 1848, he delivered a blistering attack on President James Polk for what Lincoln believed was an ill-advised war against Mexico. He called Polk “a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man” for waging a war that ended up costing the nation 13,780 lives and a whopping $100 million. After losing his House seat in the election of 1848, Lincoln returned to practicing law in the state of Illinois, where he helped to establish the new Republican Party. His oratorical skills came in handy while speaking out against the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) and the Dred Scott decision (1857), which both served to perpetuate the practice of slavery, an institution Lincoln saw as immoral. In his 1858 campaign for a seat in the U.S. Senate, as secessionist sentiment brewed among the southern states, Lincoln warned in a campaign speech that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Although he did not win a Senate seat that year, he earned national recognition as a strong political force. In 1860, Lincoln was elected to the presidency. Lincoln’s skill with words helped soothe an anxious populace throughout the Civil War. His most famous speech is the Gettysburg Address, which he delivered in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. In that speech, Lincoln resolved that those killed in the battle “shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Though less than 300 words, the Gettysburg Address is now considered a defining vision of American democracy. 1984 The Bhopal-Union Carbide disaster In the early morning hours, one of the worst industrial disasters in history begins when a pesticide plant located in the densely populated region of Bhopal in central India leaks a highly toxic cloud of methyl isocyanate into the air. Of the estimated one million people living in Bhopal at the time, 2,000 were killed immediately, at least 600,000 were injured, and at least 6,000 have died since. The leak was caused by a series of mechanical and human errors in the pesticide producing plant, operated by the Union Carbide Corporation, a U.S.-based multinational. For a full hour, the plant’s personnel and safety equipment failed to detect the massive leak, and when an alarm was finally sounded most of the harm had already been done. To make matters worse, local health officials had not been educated on the toxicity of the chemicals used at the Union Carbide plant and therefore there were no emergency procedures in place to protect Bhopal’s citizens in the event of a chemical leak. If the victims had simply placed a wet towel over their face, most would have escaped serious injury. The Indian government sued Union Carbide in a civil case and settled in 1989 for $470 million. Because of the great number of individuals affected by the disaster, most Bhopal victims received just $550, which could not pay for the chronic lung ailments, eye problems, psychiatric disorders, and other common illnesses they developed. The average compensation for deaths resulting from the disaster was $1,300. The Indian government, famous for its corruption, has yet to distribute roughly half of Union Carbide’s original settlement. Union Carbide, which shut down its Bhopal plant after the disaster, has failed to clean up the site completely, and the rusty, deserted complex continues to leak various poisonous substances into the water and soil of Bhopal. 1984 Explosion kills 2,000 at pesticide plant An explosion at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, on this day in 1984, leads to the worst industrial accident in history. At least 2,000 people died and another 200,000 were injured when toxic gas enveloped the city. Bhopal was a city of nearly a million people in India’s Madhya Pradesh region between New Dehli and Bombay. The Union Carbide pesticide plant was located in Jai Prakash Nagar, a particularly poor area of the impoverished city. Later, some critics charged that these factors were part of the reason that the plant had outdated equipment, lax management and grossly inadequate maintenance and safety procedures. On Sunday, December 2, the 100 workers on the late shift were in the process of making the pesticide Sevin. This involved mixing carbon tetrachloride, methyl isocyanate (MIC) and alpha-napthol. Over the next 12 hours, a series of astonishing errors led to disaster. The MIC at the plant was stored in three partially buried 15,000-gallon tanks. When there was a problem with one of the tanks, nitrogen was forced in to extract the MIC. However, on this day, the process was not working correctly and both MIC and nitrogen were leaking. At about 11:00 p.m., the gauges began to indicate a dangerous level of pressure in the tanks, but the workers thought the instruments were malfunctioning and took no measures to alleviate the problem. By 11:30, the workers in the vicinity of the tanks were having a physical reaction to the leak, a feeling that many were familiar with because it happened with some frequency. Even then, Shakil Qureshi, the supervisor, decided to wait until after a tea break to look into the situation. By then, it was too late, and panic ensued as an explosion rocked the plant at approximately 12:15 a.m. Firefighters attempted in vain to use a curtain of water to stop the gas from escaping the plant. The gas simply flowed over the top of the water. A piece of equipment called a vent gas scrubber, intended to prevent toxic gas from spreading, completely failed to operate. In the midst of the chaos, the drivers of the emergency buses ran away instead of driving the workers to safety. Even worse, the plant failed to inform local authorities immediately, later claiming that the phones weren’t working. People living in the vicinity of the plant were close enough to hear the alarms but ignored them on December 3 because alarms at the plant were so frequent. The cold weather that evening kept the gas close to the ground as it silently swept through Bhopal. Anyone who was already weak or frail was affected most seriously. Exposure to the gas caused vomiting and difficulty breathing. When the gas hit the train station, stampedes resulted as people tried to outrun it. Victims flooded the area hospitals, which were not prepared for the onslaught. The best and most effective treatment was a simple wet cloth over the face, but virtually none of the medical personnel dispensed this information. An exact casualty count was impossible to determine in the aftermath of this disaster but most estimates place the death toll at over 2,000. An estimated 200,000 people were affected in some way by exposure to the gas. Some were blinded; others experienced serious sleep or digestion problems following the disaster. About 10-20 percent of those exposed were still suffering serious problems, such as memory loss and nerve damage, a year later. When Union Carbide officials arrived in India following the Bhopal disaster, they were arrested. None were convicted, despite evidence suggesting that management was substantially negligent in the management of the plant.