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.

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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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

This Week in History

Death of Chief Osceola:

January 30, 1838

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. 

1830 map of Cherokee nation within Georgia

White settlers, however, had long been encroaching on Cherokee lands. In 1828, gold was discovered in Cherokee country, and white encroachments on tribal lands increased until, by 1830, about 3,000 white settlers were occupying Cherokee lands. The legislature of Georgia for its part ignored a 1791 federal treaty that had acknowledged the Cherokee as an independent nation; instead, the state encouraged the dispossession of the Cherokee. In 1832, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Marshall ruled that Georgia had no authority over the Cherokee because they constituted a sovereign nation; but the state legislature denounced the court and ignored the ruling. In this case, President Jackson did not back federal authority with threats of force, or anything else; he took Georgia’s side. “John Marshall has made his decision,” Old Hickory said. “Now let him enforce it.”

John Ross

When Georgia held a lottery to dispose of Cherokee lands to whites, a delegation under Chief John Ross went to Washington in 1835 to plead the Indians’ case. Ross, whose Indian name was Coowes Coowe, was the son of a Scottish loyalist and a mother who was one-fourth Cherokee. The Cherokee returned with a treaty of removal that they submitted to a tribal council that met at Red Clay, Tennessee. Ross and others opposed the treaty, and the entire council rejected it. To prevent Ross’ return to Washington, Georgia officials had him imprisoned, and to hide this breach of justice, suppressed the publication of the Cherokee Phoenix. Continue reading

This Week in History

Louis XVI Guillotined: January 21, 1793

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.

Louis XVI in the Tower of the Temple

It was Malesherbes who first reported the Convention’s decision to the king. Louis received the news with great calm. Only Malesherbes’ distress seemed to affect him. He sought to comfort the old man, who had once served him as a minister of state; but, said the king, “For myself, death does not frighten me; I have the greatest confidence in the mercy of God.”

Later that Sunday, January 20, an official delegation of the Convention—led by the minister of justice, Dominique Joseph Garat—formally informed the king that he was to die. They, too, were impressed by the king’s demeanor as he received the news; he seemed calm and at peace with his fate. Quel homme! Quelle résignation! Quel courage! (“What a man! What resignation! What courage!”) said Minister Garat of the king.

Imprisonment and suffering had seemed to transform Louis XVI. The dull, weakwilled, and imprudent man had now truly become a king. He commanded himself. Moreover, he gave no thought to himself but to the comfort of his loved ones who shared his durance. Over the weeks and months of their imprisonment, the royal family had suffered insult and many small cruelties from their guards. The king was never allowed to speak to anyone, not even to his wife, without the presence of a guard. When the royal family walked in the gardens of the Temple fortress, they endured the mockery of their captors. Yet Louis’s response was to forgive. “I pardon very willingly those who have been my guards for the ill treatment and cruelty which they have thought fit to use towards me,” he wrote in his will on Christmas Day. Continue reading