This Week in History

Hungary against the Habsburgs:

March 3, 1848

Lajos Kossuth

For many years, Hungary and Austria had shared the same monarch (who was emperor in Austria, but king in Hungary), but not the same laws. Unlike Austria, and the rest of the Habsburg domains, Hungary had her own constitution. Hungary had her own diet, which was supposed to meet every three years in the city of Pressburg (or Poszony or Bratislava), located on Hungary’s border with Austria.

Hungary had performed great and important services for her Habsburg rulers, both in the wars against Friedrich the Great of Prussia and in the struggle against Napoleon. Hungarians had suffered much for their Habsburg kings.


This Week in History

Slaughter in Saragossa: 

February 20, 1809 

The Bourbon Carlos IV had been king of Spain since 1788. A man of great physical strength and a firm believer in his divine right as a king, Carlos had nevertheless been a weak ruler. Taking little interest in governing, he had allowed his prime minister, Manuel de Godoy, to rule Spain.

Carlos IV de rojo.jpg

King Carlos IV

King Carlos IV did not seem to have much family loyalty, for he had abandoned his Bourbon cousin, Louis XVIII, to make an alliance with revolutionary France. However, it was really Godoy, not the king himself, who had made the alliance with France. It also was Godoy who, in late 1807, had allowed the French general, Jean-Andoche Junot, to march a French army across Spain to punish Portugal’s king for refusing to close his ports to British ships. And it was Godoy who had signed a secret treaty at Napoleon’s palace of Fontainebleau in Paris to divide Portugal between France and Spain.

Junot led a large French army into Spain in late 1807. In December he entered the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, only to find that the Portuguese royal family had fled by ship to Brazil. With one of his armies in Lisbon, Napoleon got to thinking how inconvenient it was that an independent Spain lay between France and French-controlled Portugal. Only the Bourbon family, thought Napoleon, stood between him and the mastery of the entire Iberian Peninsula, and he schemed how to get rid of them.

Manuel de Godoy

Napoleon’s opportunity came in March 1808 when Spain’s Crown Prince Fernando, who was tired of Godoy, led an uprising against his father, King Carlos. On March 17, soldiers and peasants attacked Godoy’s residence at Aranjuez, near Madrid. They captured the minister and forced Carlos IV to dismiss him. Two days later, the royal court forced Carlos to abdicate, and the crown prince became King Fernando VII of Spain.


This Week in History

The Pope’s Republican Encyclical: February 16, 1892

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.

Pope Leo XIII

Leo XIII was the first pope in many centuries to begin his reign without temporal power. Like his predecessor, Pius IX, Leo protested against the Italian government’s seizure of the Papal States and refused to leave the Vatican, where he kept himself a voluntary “prisoner.” Like Pius IX, Leo vigorously opposed Liberalism and insisted on the Church’s rights as the teacher and guide of human society. Yet, in other respects, Leo XIII was a very different pope from Pius IX. Where Pius IX stoutly defied the modern world and inspired the Catholics with the spirit of a warrior, Leo XIII was eager to find opportunities to create friendships and reconcile differences.

A skilled diplomat, Leo XIII was able to improve relations between the Holy See and the world’s rulers. His reconciliation with the German Empire grew into a kind a friendship between himself and Kaiser Wilhelm II, who visited Leo at the Vatican in 1888, 1895, and 1903. Bismarck himself had even warmed to Leo and asked him to mediate a dispute between Germany and Spain. During the first years of his reign, the pope signed a number of concordats with many foreign governments, including with the Ottoman sultan, the shah of Persia, and the emperors of China and Japan. Leo’s dealings with Russia caused Tsar Aleksandr III to ease up somewhat on his persecution of Catholics. Only with Italy was Leo uncompromising; like Pius IX, he forbade Italian Catholics to vote or run for political offices in the kingdom of Italy as long as it continued to refuse to restore the government of Rome to the Church. Still, the pope’s relations with the Italian king, Umberto I, were friendly. A serious Catholic, Umberto wanted to restore the pope’s temporal power; but he could do nothing, because his parliament opposed it. (more…)

This Week in History

Daniel Shays Lays Down His Arms: February 4, 1787

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. 

The years following the end of the war found farmers all over America sinking deeper into debt. In the course of the war, many farmers had made good money selling their crops to the Continental Army. With the coming of peace, farmers lost this lucrative market; and this loss, coupled with the general economic downturn of the time, left them owing money to all sorts of creditors, including the government — debts that they could not repay. In those days, a man could be imprisoned for not paying his debts; and, as today, his land could be seized and sold at auction.

Soldiers of the Continental Army, from a 1781 drawing by a French officer

Many states, especially in the North, where the debt problem was the most dire, passed laws to relieve the poor farmers. Some states established land banks, which lent a kind of paper money to the farmers that they could use to pay their taxes. Other states passed “stay laws” that postponed the collection of mortgages and other debts. Rhode Island, one of the most radically democratic of the states, passed a law that if a creditor refused to take state paper money in repayment of debts, then his debtors could deposit the money at a local court and the law would consider the debt paid. But creditors did not want paper money; they decided it worthless, as it was not backed by “specie” — gold or silver. Many Rhode Island merchants, therefore, closed shop, or moved to New York or the West Indies. (more…)