This Week in History

The Fall of the Paris Commune:

May 28, 1871

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. See sample chapters, here. For ordering information on Light to the Nations II and our other texts, please click here.

Archbishop Darboy

“Let us go, my friends, for the sake of God.”

Thus Pére Captier encouraged his companions, who were going, they were certain, to their death. Captier was the superior of a house of Dominicans who ran the College of Arcueil, near Paris. On May 19, 1871, a group of “citizens” representing the “Commune” of Paris had arrested Captier with four other Dominicans (Fathers Bourard, Cottrault, Delhorme, and Chatagneret) as well as eight lay professors and servants of the college. Six days later, the 12 men were taken first to a fortress on the outskirts of Paris and then to a prison within the city. Along the way they were jeered at and insulted, though they were accused of no crime. They now made their confessions, to prepare for another journey.

“Let us go, my friends . . .”

It was about five in the afternoon of May 25. One by one, the prisoners were led into the streets that on all sides were filled with armed men. These men now opened fire on the prisoners. Captier fell, mortally wounded. Bourard, Cottrault, Delhorme, and Chatagneret were cut down, as were the three professors (Monsieurs Gauquelin, Voland, and Petit) and the five servants (Aimé Gros, Marce, Cheminal, Dintroz, and Cathala). For 24 hours the bodies remained on the street, insulted by passersby, though a few paid the fallen the respect due to martyrs. (more…)

This Week in History

The Defenestration of Prague:

May 23, 1618

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. To peruse sample chapters of our books, go hereFor ordering information on Light to the Nations I and our other texts, please click here.

Threefold portrait of Cardinal Richelieu, by Philippe de Champagne

Cardinal Richelieu wanted not only to make his king all-powerful in France, but to make France the supreme nation in Europe. To do this, Richelieu had to weaken the power of the Habsburgs, the most powerful ruling family in Europe.

Indeed, the Habsburgs were most powerful. The Habsburg archduke of Austria was king over Bohemia and Hungary, as well as the emperor ruling, in title at least, over all Germany. His cousin, the Habsburg king of Spain, ruled the Netherlands, northern Italy, Naples, and the vast Spanish dominions in North and South America, rich with gold and silver. Habsburg lands surrounded France to the west and the south, and Spanish fleets could attack France at any port on its long Atlantic coastline.

So powerful were the Habsburgs, so completely did they surround France, that Richelieu could not simply declare war on them. But he could take advantage of Habsburg troubles and use them to weaken Habsburg power. And the Austrian Habsburgs soon had plenty of trouble. It all began with a revolt in Bohemia. (more…)

This Week in History

Mexico Gets an Emperor: May 19, 1822

The following text comes from our high school book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. To see sample chapters of this book, go here. For ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other texts, please click here. 

Agustín de Iturbide and the Army of the Three Guarantees’ triumphant entry into Mexico City

On September 27, 1821, Iturbide led his Army of the Three Guarantees in triumph into Mexico City. With flamboyant chivalry, Don Agustín, mounted on a black horse, marched his army in review past the most beautiful woman in the city. He then proceeded to the viceregal palace, where O’Donojú received the conqueror. In thanksgiving for victory and independence, the archbishop of Mexico offered Masses in the cathedral that had been built by Cortés, almost 300 years before.

At first all seemed to go well for Iturbide. In October the Spanish surrendered Veracruz, Acapulco, and Perote, and their forces retired to the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, built on an island in the bay of Veracruz. The entire mainland of New Spain, from Guatemala to San Francisco, was independent of Spain.

Yet though Mexico seemed peaceful and unified, factions and dissensions threatened the new country. (more…)

This Week in History

President Polk Gets His War:

May 13, 1846

The following text comes from our high school book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. To see sample chapters of this book, go here. For ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other texts, please click here

President James K. Polk

The presidential election of 1844 pitted James K. Polk, a Democrat and the governor of Tennessee, against the Kentucky Whig senator, Henry Clay. The Democrat Polk had not only favored annexing Texas (which Clay had opposed), but was convinced that it was the United States’ “manifest destiny” to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The conviction that the country’s boundaries should reach ever westward – that it had almost a divine mandate to do so – had seeped into the American popular mind. Rich lands lay in Oregon and in fabled California. Many thought the latter was not ruled well by the Mexicans, who couldn’t realize its potential. California was ripe for the taking, and rather than let France or England take it (rumor said they wanted it), the United States must seize it.

President Polk wanted California but did not, if at all possible, want to go to war to get it. The Mexican government, however, had broken off diplomatic relations with the United States over Texas and so would pay no attention to Polk’s proposals to buy California. When Texas formally accepted annexation in July 1845, Polk again proposed buying California. Since it had defaulted on the payment of debts it owed American citizens for destroyed property, Mexico, Polk suggested, should give California to the United States in lieu of the debt payment. It seemed a good business deal to Polk, but the proud Mexicans thought it an insult to their honor. (more…)