This Week in History

The Beginning of the Spanish Civil War: July 17-20, 1936

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.

Republican Spanish Civil War memorial. The inscription reads, “Better do die on your fee than live on your knees.”

The fall of the monarchy gave hope to socialists, anarchists, and other radicals that they could at last take revenge against the “conservative” forces that had oppressed them. On May 11, 1931, anarchists along with some radical socialists looted monarchist headquarters in Madrid and then wrecked or set fire to more than 12 churches in the city. As a fearful sign of what was to come, Madrid’s republican authorities either did nothing to stop the rampage or actively aided it.

Socialists and radical republicans received most of the votes in the June 1931 election for the new Cortes. The constitution drawn up by the Cortes established a secular and anti-Church state. Church and state were separated, members of religious orders were forbidden to teach anything but religion, Church schools were closed, Church property was seized, and religious processions outside the walls of church buildings were forbidden. The republican government attacked the family by making divorce easy to obtain. The new government passed laws to help workers obtain better wages and safer working conditions. The lands of large landowners were to be seized and redistributed among poor farmers. But of the more than 80,000 acres the government seized, most had belonged not to large landowners, but to small or medium-sized farmers. Continue reading

This Week in History

Draft Riots Hit New York City:

July 11-17, 1863

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. 

An English newspaper’s depiction of armed rioters clashing with federal troops in New York City

Before the fall of Vicksburg and Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg, the southern armies had seemed to be advancing in the East and holding their own in the West. With continued successes, perhaps Great Britain or France would recognize the Confederacy; and Lincoln then would have to agree to peace or face war with European powers. Gettysburg and Vicksburg changed all that. Lee was back in Virginia, and the Mississippi River was a Federal highway. The blockade grew more and more efficient, and the hope of European intervention grew dim. Lincoln needed another supreme effort, it seemed, to topple the Confederacy. The problem was, he needed more troops.

In March, Congress had passed a conscription act that allowed the president to draft into service men between the ages of 20 and 45. With enlistments way down, Lincoln enacted the conscription act, and in July called for 300,000 men to serve for three-year stints. One provision of Lincoln’s draft, however, drew the opposition of Radical Republicans in Congress: if a man could come up with a $300 “commutation fee” or could find someone to serve in his place, he could avoid the draft. This law, declared Pennsylvania congressman Thaddeus Stevens, “is a rich man’s bill made for him who can raise his $300 and against him who cannot raise that sum.” Continue reading

Fourth of July Trivia

At the outbreak of fighting in April 1775, few colonists wanted complete independence from Great Britain. Those who did were thought to be radical. By the middle of the following year sentiments had shifted with many more colonists now being in favor of independence.

In August 1775 a royal proclamation declared that the King’s American subjects were “engaged in open and avowed rebellion.” Later that year, Parliament passed the American Prohibitory Act, which made all American vessels and cargoes forfeit to the Crown. And in May 1776 the Congress learned that the King had negotiated treaties with German states to  … Read more>

This Week in History

Independence Day in Sonoma:

July 4, 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. 

An 1846 map of the West, showing Texas’ disputed territorial claims and the putative extent of Mexican California (in pink)

In the December of 1845, a party of about 16 armed men led by Captain John Charles Frémont of the United States Army Corps of Topographical Engineers arrived at John Sutter’s fort on the Sacramento River. Frémont’s party included the explorer and trapper, Kit Carson.

It was Frémont’s second journey into California. He had first come to California in 1843 through Nevada, westward over the Sierra Nevada, and through central and southern California. From California, he made his way home via Santa Fé in New Mexico. Frémont wrote a detailed report of his expedition that not only gave details of topography, flora, and fauna, but revealed the feeble hold Mexico had on California. The report won fame for Frémont as the “Pathfinder.”

Frémont’s father-in-law was the pro-expansionist senator from Missouri, Thomas Hart Benton; the former ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, was Frémont’s patron. After Frémont returned from his first expedition in 1844, Poinsett introduced him to both General Winfield Scott, who promoted Frémont to captain, and to President Polk. It was with the backing of such powerful men that Frémont undertook his second expedition into California. Ostensibly it was just another topographical expedition, like the first. Continue reading

This Week in History

The Cristeros Lay Down Their Arms: June 27, 1929

The following text comes from our high school book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. To read earlier excerpts from our account of the Cristeros, please go here and here. 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. 

Victoriano Ramirez, “El Catorce”

The Cristero rebellion would have died in the summer of 1927 but for one man — the guerrilla leader, Victoriano Ramirez. El Catorce (“the Fourteen”) men called him for a legendary feat — that after breaking out of jail, he single-handedly killed 14 members of a posse sent out to arrest him. With the fame of this legend and a keen grasp of guerrilla tactics, Ramirez rekindled the rebellion in the Los Altos region of Jalisco There he found ready followers; for, not only had Los Altos all along been been the center of the rebellion, but its people had suffered harsh repression by the government. Federal troops had forced the native population to leave their homes and go into concentration camps. In this way the government thought it could keep the peasants from supplying the Cristeros and, moreover, confiscate their food and livestock.

With the rebellion again in full swing, the Liga Defensora decided that the scattered Cristero forces needed coordination and military discipline. They turned thus to a retired general, Enrique Gorostieta y Velarde, to take on overall command of the rebellion. Gorostieta, however, did not embrace the aims of the Cristeros. The mercenary general (he demanded twice the salary a federal general would receive) was a Liberal and a Freemason and mocked the religion for which the Cristeros died. But Gorostieta opposed Calles. His dream, it seems was to establish a truly Liberal republic that enforced separation of Church and state but did not interfere with religious belief or practice.

Enrique Gorostieta y Velarde

Believer or not, Gorostieta was an able commander. He turned the ragged bands of Cristeros into a disciplined army. The rebellion that had seemed dead now took on new life. Cristero forces grew to between 40,000 and 50,000 men and throughout 1928 defeated federal forces time and again on the field of battle — and this, despite the fact that the United States was supplying the federals with arms. President Calles thus had no choice but to see the Cristeros for what they were: a serious challenge to his government….

….The year 1928 was an election year, and, as every election year, it witnessed military insurrections against the government. When Calles had crushed these, he proposed that Alvaro Obregón succeed him in the presidency; their plan, it seems, was to take turns holding the office. Obregón easily won the election in the summer of 1928 but never took office. While in a restaurant on July 17, 1928, Obregón agreed to have his portrait drawn. While sketching the president-elect’s portrait, the artist, José de León Toral, took out a gun and shot him in the face. Continue reading