3 Small, Random Decisions That Shaped America in Insane Ways

Lincoln did some good things, but he’s also the reason we can’t ride elephants
3 Small, Random Decisions That Shaped America in Insane Ways

It’s time for some chaos theory. Just kidding. Despite the fact that, as an online humor writer, my general purpose is to go off at length about things I have a passing-to-middling understanding of, mathematics, especially that kind of mathematics, is something even I won’t touch with a 10-foot pole. I gave up in calculus about three days in, so unless a mathematical theory relates directly to playing Drug Wars on a graphing calculator, it’s not something I could speak to. One facet of chaos theory, probably the most popular piece, though, is the butterfly effect, something that’s become both parlance and a terrible Ashton Kutcher movie.

When we move to history, a class I at least passed, the idea that one tiny action can have massive implications isn’t a theory, it’s been proven again and again. Throughout time, there have been numerous small “fuck it”s that have spilled untold ink on textbook pages. America’s no exception, of course. We’d like to think everything that led us up to our current lives was a calculated plan, but it turns out predicting the future was a big ask for Americans past.

These are three small decisions that changed the future of America forever…

Theodore Roosevelt’s Reading Aid Saved His Life

Public Domain

“No bullet will stop me from showing off my cool hat!”

Abraham Lincoln, who we’ll hear more about later in this article, was known for his brevity, and how much the Gettysburg Address was able to accomplish despite its tight runtime is still admired today. The speech that Theodore Roosevelt gave on October, 14, 1912 was a lot less concise. It was an 84-minute speech, which might be why Roosevelt decided he might need a hard copy onstage with him. Roosevelt tucked all 50 carpal-tunnel-inducing pages into his breast pocket, next to his glasses case, and headed to the site of the speech, only stopping briefly outside his hotel to be shot in the chest with a revolver by a man named John Schrank.

This might be where you realize that you’ve heard of this speech before, despite having no knowledge of a single word of it or even what it was generally about. It was the famous speech Roosevelt delivered after being shot. The deciding factor between him ending up in an auditorium instead of a morgue that day was the physical speech itself: the 50-page behemoth slowed the bullet enough that it stopped at his ribcage without puncturing his lung or other internal organs. 

He reportedly checked if he was coughing up blood, and seeing a dry palm, went right ahead to the podium, where he basically started his speech with one of the most badass paragraphs in oration: Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet — there is where the bullet went through — and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.

The Titanic Sank Because A Guy Forgot to Leave His Keys

Public Domain

“Hey, not to be a bother, but has anybody seen the binoculars?”

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that you are headed up to a ship’s crow’s nest to serve as lookout. Any of us that don’t have superpowers or sci-fi ocular implants might think it prudent to bring up some sort of item that might assist our lowly human eyes. There’s a reason that our mental picture of a crow’s nest includes a spyglass, or better, binoculars. One particularly famous ship’s safety, however, was left to the simple retinas of a normal man. Given that the ship was the Titanic, we can conclude that was probably less than ideal.

The weird thing was, there were binoculars in the crow’s nest of the Titanic, and they would be found in the wreckage, so we know they were there when the boat sank. Unfortunately, they were in a locker that no one on board had the keys to. Those keys were located in the pocket of a man named David Blair, who was not on the Titanic. He had been, up until the last minute, when he was reassigned. And in the same way you might accidentally walk out of a bank with their pen, Blair, when removed from the ship, forgot to put the keys back. If only they’d been as smart as those coffee shops that nail them to a 2x4.

Sure, we can’t prove they would have stopped the disaster, but one pretty important guy thinks so: One of the lookouts from the Titanic, who survived to testify that he thought if they had binoculars, they would have had enough time to get out of the way.

America Was Almost Filled With Elephants

Public Domain

“Thanks, but no.”

To the dismay of grade-schoolers across the country, the chance of seeing an elephant in America is pretty much strictly within the confines of a zoo. A good outcome for not getting unceremoniously crushed somewhere in Nevada, but a whole lot less exciting. What you might not know, however, is that America, at one point, was on the precipice of being a much more elephant-friendly nation. It also turns out that this decision wasn’t made by Mother Earth or any sort of climate concern, but by President Abraham Lincoln.

In 1861, Lincoln began his term as President, receiving an influx of gifts that would make a billionaire’s bar-mitzvahed son feel slighted. One of these gifts, or at least the offer of it, came from the King of Siam (now Thailand), Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut. The honorable Mr. Mongkut threw out the option to send Lincoln a full grip of elephants that could be brought to America and bred. With the grace befitting his reputation, Lincoln kindly declined, a decision that is probably the only thing saving us from having a bunch of live elephants at every Republican political rally now.

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