This Week in History

A Dastardly Execution: March 21, 1804

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

Napoleon Bonaparte, as First Consul of the Republic of France

Despite the Treaty of Amiens, France and Great Britain could not keep peace for long. In the several months following the signing of the treaty, Napoleon’s suspicions of England grew. Great Britain, he claimed, was not keeping to what she agreed to in the treaty. He complained that the government of King George III allowed the Bourbon princes to live in England and even supported them with money. He bristled at the ridicule English newspapers hurled at him—he, the First Consul of France and the champion of the Republic!

The English had their own grievances against France. The king’s government could not tolerate the power France had gained on the continent. Northern Italy and Switzerland had come under the republic’s “protection,” and so had the island of Elba (between Corsica and Italy) as well as the country of Holland. In granting “protection” to the Batavian Republic, as Holland was now called, France controlled the best coastline in northern Europe. And then there was the simple snobbery of the English upper class. For them, “Buonaparte” was nothing but an upstart—a lowborn Italian who by cunning had pushed his way into the society of his betters. Admiral Horatio Nelson spoke for many English aristocrats when he called Napoleon the “Corsican scoundrel.” (more…)

This Week in History

Assassination of the Russian Constitution: March 13, 1881

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

Tsar Aleksandr II

As he had done every Sunday for many years, on the Sunday of March 13, 1881, Tsar Aleksandr II climbed into his bulletproof carriage. Then, accompanied by seven armed Cossacks, he rode along the Katerina Canal in St. Petersburg on his way to review the changing of his guards. It was a cold day, but people gathered on the sidewalks along the street to watch the passing of the tsar. One of these was a young man, Nikolai Rysakov; but he had not come simply to see the tsar. In his hands the youth held a small package. When the tsar’s carriage was before him, Rysakov threw the package. It exploded under the carriage, killing a Cossack guard and wounding the driver and several spectators on the street. (more…)

This Week in History

The Opening of the “Hundred Days”: March 6, 1933

This text comes from our book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America (now available in hard cover). Please visit our webpage to peruse sample chapters of our book. For ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other texts, please click here.

Roosevelt giving a “Fireside Chat”

The day after his inauguration, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with advisers long into the night to decide what to do about the country’s economic crisis. Since November, the federal government had done nothing about the depression. Hoover did not want to initiate any new policies to which Roosevelt would be opposed, and Roosevelt (fearful that he would be hamstrung by agreeing to policies not fully his own) refused to collaborate with Hoover in working up new policies. Facing government inaction, people took matters into their own hands and withdrew their savings from banks. Bank failures proliferated until some state governors began proclaiming “bank holidays” — days on which no transactions could occur.

It was doubtful whether the course Roosevelt finally decided to take was constitutional or not, but people were too desperate to ask any questions. On March 6, the president ordered the closing of all banks for four days. Roosevelt followed this up with more decisive action. On March 9, the first day of Congress’ session, he submitted an emergency bank bill to Congress. In the record time of eight hours, Congress passed this bill, which allowed the banks to reopen with a new license system and under the direction of conservators. This was decisive action, indeed! It caught everyone’s attention and filled them with a confidence that they had not known for three years. When the banks reopened on March 13, there was no run on savings. On March 15, the stock market began its slow upward trend.

Roosevelt again surprised the country on March 12 by addressing them on the banking crisis over the radio. This was the first of his “Fireside Chats,” as he called them, with which, over the next several years, he explained and promoted his policies to the public. Roosevelt had a resonant voice that he used to effect to instill confidence in his policies. (more…)