This Week in History

Zapata Assassinated: April 10, 1919

This text comes from our book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. 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.

Venustiano Carranza

Carranza was not the author of the more radical provisions of the Constitution of 1917, and he did nothing to enforce them. Indeed, it would have been difficult to deprive foreign companies of their land and mineral rights, for they would appeal to their governments for redress. Both the Church and the landowners resisted the government’s reforms. Too, even if Carranza had possessed the power to enforce the Constitution, he had not the desire.

But when Carranza did exercise power, he used it against radicals. He did nothing to redistribute lands to the peasants; he actively suppressed workers’ attempts to organize unions. He closed the House of the World Worker in Mexico City and arrested one of its most powerful leaders, Luis Morones.

Given Carranza’s violations of the new constitution, one might have expected some general to “pronounce” against him; but Mexico was exhausted by revolution; and, besides, Carranza had pledged that he would not seek re-election. (more…)

This Week in History

Death Dance at Shiloh: April 6-7, 1862

This text comes from our book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. 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.

It took over 400 vessels to ferry the immense Army of the Potomac, 121,500 strong, from its base near Washington to Fort Monroe. McClellan’s army reached Fort Monroe in mid-March and began its slow advance up the York Peninsula. On April 5, McClellan’s advanced guard reached Yorktown where, some 80 years earlier, Cornwallis had surrendered to Washington.

General Joseph Eggleston Johnston

Joe Johnston’s Confederates lay between the Army of the Potomac and Richmond. At Yorktown itself, John Bankhead Magruder generalled 11,000 men. Magruder, knowing he was vastly outnumbered by union forces, fell back on his flair for the theater. By scattering artillery fire and marching his men across the same clearing several times, Magruder made it seem that he possessed far more than 11,000 men. He fooled McClellan, who believed no fewer than 100,000 men lay across the Confederate lines. It would be foolish, McClellan thought, to challenge such a host, ensconced as it was behind fortifications; so, even though Lincoln urged him to “break the enemy’s line . . . at once,” McClellan decided to dig in and lay siege to Yorktown. (more…)

This Week in History

Execution of the Cristeros’ “Maestro”:

April 1, 1927

This text comes from our book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. 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. Please visit our blog to read our previous post on the Cristeros.

“Escena de Viernes Santo en pleno siglo XX” (A Holy Friday Scene in the Middle of the 20th Century) — a picture depicting Christ (center) as Clero (a priest), and his torturers as Calles, Morones, and Obregón.

In the early battles, the insurgents were victorious against local forces but were defeated when they confronted the federal army — which led the federal commander in Jalisco, General Jesús Ferreira, to boast that he would conduct, not a campaign, but a hunt in the state. But in the Pacific coastal state of Colima he met his match in the person of an ex-seminarian and leader of the ACJM, Enrique de Jesús Ochoa. When Ochoa removed his insurgent force from Colima city to Caucentla on the border of Jalisco, Ferreira met him there — and was repulsed.

Because of the insurgents’ war cry — Viva Cristo Rey! (“Long live Christ the King!”) — the Federals, perhaps in mockery, named them Cristo-reyes or Cristeros. But though they might despise them for being peasants, Federal commanders learned to their dismay that the Cristeros had a number of gifted leaders. These were not militarily trained but were men of the common trades who discovered in the crucible of conflict a gift for strategy and command. Along with Ochoa were Jesús Degollado, a druggist; José Reyes Vega and Aristeo Pedroza, priests; and Victoriano Ramirez and Miguel Hernandez, ranch hands. Under such leaders, in the early months of 1927, Cristero forces won significant victories against crack federal cavalry at San Francisco del Rincón in Guanajuato, and at San Julián in Jalisco. (more…)

This Week in History

Parliament Emancipates Catholics:

April 13, 1829 

George IV in 1816

Conditions did not improve when George IV became king in 1820. As regent for his insane father, George III, since 1811, George IV had long supported the repression of radicals. Though a clever man (he was a student of the classics and fluent in French, Italian, and German), George IV was not a particularly good man. He was notoriously immoral and so did not mind the corruption that filled the British government. This made the new king very unpopular.

Though he spent most of his time at Windsor Castle, George IV continued to play a part in politics. He opposed all reform measures, including one that he himself had supported over 20 years before — Catholic emancipation. Since the 16th century, English law had forbidden Catholics to serve in Parliament or even to vote for members of Parliament. Penal laws carrying punishments of fines, imprisonment,and even death (for Catholic priests) were still on the books. In Ireland, though most of the population was Catholic, only Protestants could serve as magistrates; and everyone whether Protestant or not, had to pay tithes to support the Protestant Church of Ireland. Though in 1797 George IV had proposed a bill that would allow Catholics to sit in Parliament, by 1813 he was a firm opponent of similar bills. George IV now said his kingly oath to support the Protestant religion meant he had to oppose any efforts for Catholic emancipation.


This Week in History

The Founding of Danton’s Dictator:

April 5, 1793

Georges Danton addressing the French National Convention

Danton had not been in Paris when the National Convention declared war on Great Britain. Instead, he had gone on another mission to the army in Belgium, and what he saw there was not encouraging. Returning to Paris on February 15, 1793, he described the poor state of the army to the Convention deputies. The soldiers were ill equipped and, being volunteers, many were returning to their homes, he said. With Great Britain, Holland, and now Spain joined in a coalition against France, more troops — many more troops — were needed, said Danton.

So it was that, on February 23, the Convention voted to increase the size of the army to 500,000 men. To do this, it decreed that the departments had to provide 300,000 men, by conscription if necessary. Such numbers would soon be needed, for Dumouriez had invaded Holland.

Jean-Paul Marat portre.jpg

Jean-Paul Marat

But providing more troops to the army was not Danton’s only concern. He wanted to bring peace to the Convention. His attempts to bridge the split between the Girondins and the Mountain had again failed. The Girondin leaders would have nothing to do with the rough Danton, and even the Left did not unite behind him. On the Mountain were men like Robespierre and other Jacobins who, though despising the Girondins, might still be willing to come to a reasonable agreement with them. But then there were fanatics, like the Jacobin Jean-Paul Marat, who not only wanted to force the Girondins out of the Convention but to bathe their own hands in Girondin blood. Such men only disgusted the high-toned Girondin leaders and made reconciliation between the factions even harder.