41 A.D. : Roman Emperor Gaius Caesar (Caligula) is assassinated by members of his Praetorian Guard. Nephew of the great Tiberius Caesar, Caligula’s five year reign quickly degenerated into an orgy of violence and sexual perversion. The Senate conspirators believed that removing him would allow for reinstatement of the Republic, but the army was so incensed by the murder that they spirited away Caligula’s uncle Claudius, rallying the troops to support the imperial throne against the Senate.
1265: The first English “Commons” Parliament, consisting of representatives from the boroughs who had no formal Royal authorization, convenes in Westminster. The gathering lasted only through mid-February, but it established the legitimacy of a representative assembly as a viable and correct form of government. The expansion of governance in the Westminster Parliament began the process of transforming the British monarchy into the constitutional form we recognize today.
1502: Portuguese explorer Gaspar de Lemos begins a formal survey of the lands around Guanabara Bay. His work will lay the foundation for the establishment of Rio de Janeiro in 1565.
1506: The first contingent of Swiss Guards arrives in Vatican City to provide security for the Pope. Swiss mercenaries were legendary for their loyalty to their leadership and ferocious effectiveness in battle. Their appearance at the Holy See during the early rumblings of the Reformation was a perfectly logical extension of their long running mercenary role on the European military scene. They remain the core of the Vatican’s security forces to this day.
1579: Three northern provinces of the Spanish Netherlands sign the Union of Utrecht, pledging to help defend each other from Spanish suppression of Reformation elements in the Low Countries. By early summer, 8 more provinces and city-states attached themselves to the Utrecht group, forming the nucleus of an independent and Protestant Netherlands that would in 1581 declare themselves free from Spanish rule under the Act of Abjuration. The Union signed today put Great Britain into play as the guarantor of the Netherlands’ independence from Spain.
1649: Marking the beginning of the end of the long struggle between British monarchs and their increasingly assertive Parliaments, King Charles I is put on trial for “high crimes.”
1787: In the final battle of what today is an obscure incident, an unauthorized militia aligned with Massachusetts farmer Daniel Shays conduct a short, sharp battle with the legitimate Massachusetts Militia at the Springfield Armory. Four of Shays’ men are killed, twenty are wounded, and the rebels flee north, totally disbanded. Shays’ Rebellion grew out of attempts to collect debts left over from the Revolution. European investors were putting the squeeze on Boston business owners, demanding payment in specie. The businessmen, in turn made the same demands on their debtors, mostly small freehold farmers in the central part of the state. The collections quickly descended into complete seizures of properties, including houses of the farmers, who felt helpless to resist. Finally, in August of 1786, Bunker Hill veteran Daniel Shays had had enough, and under the rubric of revolution, organized his first band of militia to force the issue at the Springfield courthouse. The situation festered through the Fall and Winter, leading to the climactic battle this day, where the Massachusetts militia, without authorization, drew weapons and ammunition from the Federal Arsenal to prevent Shays’ group from expropriating it first. The threat of further actions of this nature underscored the fundamental weakness of the Articles of Confederation, and spurred calls for a constitutional convention to draft a more effective form of national government, which we now know as the Constitution.
1783: Over two years after Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, the British government signs the Treaty of Paris, formally recognizing its former American colonies as independent states.
1793: On January 15th the National Assembly voted on the charges against France’s King Louis XVI: 693 found him guilty, 0 found him innocent, and 23 abstained. Evidence of Louis’ collaboration with various foreign governments to invade France and put down the Revolution sealed the verdict. On the 16th a voice roll-call vote, 361 voted for immediate execution, 288 voted against execution, and 72 voted for death in principle, but with modifications and delays built into their vote. In the end, the King was formally stripped of all titles, and Citizen Louis Capet mounted the scaffold where he gave a brief speech forgiving his executioners and praying that other citizens of France would be spared his fate. The Guillotine ended his life in a single stroke. Despite the ranks of soldiers surrounding the platform, the crowds surged forward to dip their handkerchiefs in the king’s blood as it dripped to the ground below. French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard noted “[the regicide] was the starting point of all French thought, the memory of which acts as a reminder that French modernity began under the sign of a crime.”
1901: Death of Alexandrina Victoria of the House of Hanover, better remembered* for nearly 64 years as Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, and after 1876, Empress of India.
1919: The delegates meeting at the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles approve a motion to develop a League of Nations, based on President Wilson’s 14 Points.
1921: Establishment of the First Turkish Constitution, the product of the vision and drive of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The constitution is built from 23 short articles, the core of which is that Turkish sovereignty belongs to the nation, not the Sultan. As the victorious Allies of the Great War dismembered the far-flung remains of the Ottoman Empire (ally of the Central Powers, you remember), Ataturk galvanized the core of Anatolian Turkey to stand up for its sovereign rights as an independent state, designed explicitly to be secular in order to negate all the negative influences of the old Moslem Caliphate, of which the Sultan was Caliph. Two years after adoption of the constitution, the Caliphate was formally ended; the Wikipedia entry puts the end very nicely: “Per the law of March 3, 1924, the last Ottoman Sultan, the last Caliph and all members of their imperial families had their citizenships revoked, were exiled forever from the new Republic and their descendants banned from ever setting foot in its territory. The same law also nationalized all the properties of the Imperial Crown without compensation.”
1924: Death of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as V.I. Lenin (b.1870),
1945: An almost-defeated Germany begins a forced evacuation of its 1.8 million citizens from its lands in East Prussia (DLH 11/15). The evacuation was planned earlier by the General Staff with the understanding that East Prussia could not be defended against concentrated assault. The actual event was triggered by reports of Soviet atrocities as the Red Army plunged into its easternmost frontiers. As civilian panic set in, the orderly, planned evacuation turned into a general rout. The maritime portion of the evacuation used around a thousand vessels for nearly 15 weeks, transporting 350,000 soldiers and upwards of 800,000 civilian refugees to mainland Germany. One of the ships, the passenger liner SS Wilhelm Gustloff, was hit by three torpedoes from a Russian submarine and sank in less than 45 minutes, taking an estimated 7,000 lives to the bottom, the worst maritime disaster in history. After the armistice in May, the Soviets began their own forced expulsion of the remaining civilian Germans, resulting in even more misery, including an estimated 300,000 deaths from starvation and exposure. When trying to get your head around the scope of this event, it is important to understand that the numbers are highly speculative, and depending on the source, either inflated or deflated to reflect a particular political position. But for the territory known as East Prussia, the bottom line is this: a region whose German population was 2,200,000 in 1940, was reduced to 193,000 by May of 1945 (Antony Beevor).
1950: Former State Department diplomat Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury. His Progressive fellow-travelers made him something of a cause célèbre, citing his persecution as proof of the evils of McCarthy-ism and the anti-Soviet side of the Cold War. Unfortunately for Hiss and his fellow-travelers, the Soviet files that have been released to date confirm everything Republicans accused him of.
1954: USS Nautilus (SSN-571) is launched in Groton, Connecticut by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. The modified “Guppy” class submarine was the first ship powered by nuclear energy. She went on to set a number of endurance records and set the stage for a revolution in submarine strategies worldwide.
1960 – The Bathyscaph Trieste descends to the deepest part of the ocean — the Marianas Trench, 36,000 feet down.
1961: Newly elected President John F. Kennedy gives his famous “ask not” inaugural address.
1965: Death of Sir Winston Churchill, the greatest Britain, who in life was full of quotes, some listed below:
“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.
Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.” (From: The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan (1899)).
“Politics are almost as exciting as war, and – quite as dangerous… [I]n war, you can only be killed once. But in politics many times.” (From: Conversation with Harold Begbie, cited in Master Workers, (1906))
“Lenin was sent into Russia by the Germans in the same way that you might send a phial containing a culture of typhoid or cholera to be poured into the water supply of a great city, and it worked with amazing accuracy.” (Comments on Vladimir Lenin, in the House of Commons, November 5th, 1919, cited in Churchill, by Himself (2008))
Lady Nancy Astor: If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee!
Churchill: And if I were your husband I would drink it!
2005: Death of President Nixon’s long-serving secretary, Rose Mary Woods (b.1917). During the Watergate hearings, she achieved notoriety for her depiction of how a crucial section of the secretly recorded Oval Office tapes was “inadvertently” erased.