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…)



This Week in History

Another French Revolution:

February 22-24, 1848

File:Louis Philippe I (cropped from an 1841 Winterhalter painting).jpg

Louis-Philippe, “King of the French

It all came as a great and bitter surprise to King Louis Philippe. The 75-year-old citizen king no doubt knew why his “fellow citizens” were unhappy. Both in 1846 and 1847, there had been crop failures in France. Many industrial workers had lost their jobs, and the poor were suffering from harsh poverty and hunger. Then there were the intellectuals – the Liberals, socialists, and anarchists – who were openly attacking the government and calling for reforms, including a broadening of the right to vote.

It all came as a surprise to Louis Philippe, but it shouldn’t have. Throughout 1847, “Reform Banquets” had been held throughout France, complete with food, wine, and speakers stirring up the people against the government. A Reform Banquet was planned to take place in Paris itself on February 22, 1848. Louis Philippe and his prime minister, François Guizot, of course saw the banquet as a threat; but how great a threat it was, the citizen king did not fully understand.

A caricature of Louis Philippe, depicting his transformation into a pear. Louis Philippe, who came into power as the “citizen king” following a revolution that overthrew the last Bourbon king of France, Charles X, became increasingly unpopular through the 18 years of his government. By Honoré Daumier, following an original by Charles Philipon, who was imprisoned for drawing it.

Guizot had been a chief target of those reforming folk who attended the Reform Banquets. Though himself a Liberal who had been responsible for expanding public education more widely throughout France, Guizot was intensely hated by more radical Liberals, for he opposed extending the right to vote to more French citizens. It is not surprising, then, that he opposed the Reform Banquets and that he banned the banquet scheduled to take place in Paris on Tuesday, February 22, 1848.

On the morning of that Tuesday, Parisians woke to find notices posted in the city, announcing that the government had prohibited the scheduled Reform Banquet. The news produced an immediate reaction among Paris’s intellectuals and workers. Mobs gathered in the streets, demanding that the king dismiss Guizot. Rioting flared up throughout the city, especially in the poorer sections. A violent mob gathered at Guizot’s residence, broke some of his windows, and would probably have done more damage if the municipal guard and the police had not dispersed them. Louis Philippe beheld the uprising of his people with fear and surprise. Hoping to placate them, he dismissed Guizot.

(more…)



This Week in History

Execution of a Tyrolese Patriot: February 20, 1810

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

Emperor Franz

Not all of Emperor Franz’s subjects gave up their resistance to Napoleon after the Treaty of Vienna. In the Alpine valleys of western Austria, called the Tyrol, there lived a stout, freedom-loving peasantry who were loyal to the House of Habsburg and deeply devoted to their Catholic Faith. They would tolerate no one who would dare raise a hand against God or their emperor.

So it was a very bitter pill for the Tyrolese to take when, in 1805, the Treaty of Pressburg forced them to submit to Napoleon’s ally, Bavaria. Yet, at first, all seemed to go well enough. Bavaria’s King Maximilien Josef had promised that life in the Tyrol would go on as it had before, and for a while it seemed he would keep his word.

But Napoleon was pressuring Maximilien Josef; and in the end, the king broke his word. He laid new taxes on the Tyrolese, divided their country into French-style departments, and began drafting their men to serve in the Bavarian army. Worst of all, influenced by his “enlightened” advisors, the Bavarian king tried to crush Catholic worship and practice in the Tyrol. Churches were pillaged of their adornments and sacred vessels; and when priests resisted this tyranny, the Bavarian authorities imprisoned them. The bishop of Innsbruck, the chief city of the Tyrol, was himself exiled for protesting against the government’s acts. (more…)



This Week in History

An Explosion that Inspired a War: 

February 15, 1898

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.

Chief Justice Melville Fuller swears William McKinley in as president. Former president Grover Cleveland stands at McKinley’s left.

It was not because he opposed foreign intervention on principle that McKinley opposed intervention in Cuba. For instance, McKinley wanted to annex the Hawai’ian Islands, where wealthy owners of pineapple plantations (themselves the descendants of New England missionaries) had overthrown the last queen, Liliuokalani. In 1893, when the revolution that ousted Liliuokalani took place and Hawai’i became a republic under President Sanford Dole, President Harrison had introduced an annexation treaty into the Senate. President Cleveland withdrew the treaty after he discovered that the Hawai’ian revolution was not a popular uprising but the work of a few Americans with the aid of United States troops. Cleveland called the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani an unlawful subversion and declared the United States could never countenance it. Such scruples did not bother McKinley. In 1897, the Republican president submitted to the Senate a second treaty for the annexation of Hawai’i. (more…)