Alexander Hamilton was made the first United States Secretary of the Treasury by President George Washington.
Alexander Hamilton was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis to a Scottish-born father and a half-British, half-French Huguenot mother who had left her husband and son on the Danish-ruled island of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Alexander’s parents were consequently unmarried when he was born, and he became an orphan around the age of twelve following his mother’s death. His father had left the family a number of years earlier, and Hamilton moved to live first with his older cousin and later a wealthy merchant.
Hamilton secured work as a clerk at a local shipping company, where he developed an interest in writing. A letter to his father recounting a violent storm was later published in a newspaper, and this attracted the attention of wealthy locals who provided funds for him to continue his education in New York City.
Hamilton believed strongly in independence for the Thirteen Colonies and, following the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, he joined a local militia from which he rose to become the senior aide to General Washington. The end of the war saw Hamilton elected as New York’s representative to the Congress of the Confederation, where he argued for a strong central government and the creation of a new constitution.
Hamilton was a highly influential member of President Washington’s cabinet, and was appointed as the first Secretary of the Treasury on 11 September 1789. He continued in this role for almost five years, during which he had a key role in defining the structure of the government of the United States and created the country’s first national bank.
On the 16th August 1819, the Peterloo Massacre occurred at St Peter’s Field in Manchester when a group of over 60,000 protesters were charged by cavalry. An estimated 15 people died, and approximately 700 others were injured.
The protesters had gathered to hear the radical speaker Henry Hunt demand parliamentary and social reform. Britain was caught in the midst of economic depression and the textile industry, concentrated in the industrial centres of northern England, was particularly badly hit. Factory owners cut wages by as much as two-thirds which, combined with the increased price of grain due to the Corn Laws that imposed tariffs on cheaper imports, led to workers facing famine as they could no longer afford to buy food.
They also lacked political representation. The millions of people who lived in the Lancashire mill towns were represented by just two Members of Parliament due to out-of-date constituency boundaries and, due to the limitations of voting rights, they weren’t eligible to vote anyway. These inequalities became a target for radicals, who quickly gained working class support.
Contemporary accounts say that the crowds were peaceful and in good spirits when they assembled on the morning of the 16th August. However, the chairman of the magistrates was concerned by the enthusiastic reception when Henry Hunt arrived, the ordered the local Yeomanry to arrest him. Caught in the crowd, the cavalry began hacking with their sabres. The melee was interpreted by the magistrates as the crowd attacking the yeomanry, and more cavalry were sent in. The crowd dispersed within ten minutes, but eleven people died on the field.
On the 1st August 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act came into force in the United Kingdom, although it had received royal assent a year earlier. The Act outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire, although there were some exceptions such as in areas controlled by the East India Company.
Although Parliament had outlawed the slave trade itself in the Slave Trade Act of 1807, that Act only served to stop the creation of new slaves. It did not address the issue of existing slaves working in the colonies. It was these existing slaves that the new Act sought to address, and although it did abolish slavery the impact took a long time to be felt.
A key problem facing the government was what to do with the former slaves. The Act addressed this issue by stating that former slaves over the age of six became ‘apprentices’ and continued to work on largely the same plantations in largely the same conditions as before. Many of them were only fully emancipated six years later in 1840.
The former slave owners themselves were also dealt with in the Slavery Abolition Act. It’s important to remember that the Act effectively stripped slave-owners of their property. The logic therefore went that the slave-owners needed to be compensated for their loss of property, so the Act established the Slave Compensation Commission who awarded the equivalent of £17bn in today’s money – funded by the taxpayer – to 46,000 slave owners. A searchable online database of every slave-owner who was awarded compensation is available to view at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/
On the 21st July 1970, construction was completed on the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. Taking just over ten years to build, the High Dam cost nearly $1 billion. However, it’s estimated that this cost was recovered in less than five years thanks to income from increased agricultural production and hydroelectric generation, as well as savings from flood protection and improved navigation.
A dam had already been built across the Nile near the southern Egyptian city of Aswan in 1902. It was designed to store the Nile’s annual floodwater and release it during the dry season in order to irrigate the farms and settlements further downstream. However, despite being heightened twice by the 1930s it still did not provide enough water for future development. Consequently designs for a new dam were sought.
Following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 led by the Free Officers Movement, President Gamal Abdel Nasser began searching for funding for the new dam. The US, Britain and the USSR all initially offered financial support, but after the USSR promised funding at just 2% interest the other powers pulled out. Income from the Suez Canal following Nasser’s nationalisation of the waterway provided further funds for the construction of the dam.
The completed dam is almost 4km long and 111 metres tall. The 550km long reservoir created when it was flooded is known as Lake Nasser, and holds 132 cubic kilometres of water. The creation of the reservoir forced the relocation of over 100,000 people and a number of archaeological sites that would otherwise have been lost beneath the water.
Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria signed the Reinheitsgebot, a law to ensure the purity of beer that specific a limited number of ingredients.
The early 1500s experienced economic and agricultural tensions which saw brewers and bakers competing to purchase grain to produce their goods. In an effort to avoid price inflation, the Reinheitsgebot consequently limited brewers to only use barley while wheat and rye were exclusively made available to bakers for bread.
The original purity law was signed in Ingolstadt and stated that beer brewed in Bavaria could only contain barley, hops and water. As the political situation in Germany changed over the subsequent centuries the Reinheitsgebot continued to be a central piece of legislation. Its pan-German implementation was even a prerequisite for Bavaria joining the German Empire in 1871. The strict nature of the law meant that it has often met opposition from some German brewers leading to some adaptations. These include recognising that yeast is required for fermentation, and permitting malted ‘grains’ rather than just barley to be used.
Despite the subsequent changes, some people have blamed the Reinheitsgebot for the lack of diversity in German beers. As recently as 2016 the German daily newspaper Der Spiegel criticised the law for denying brewers the opportunity to experiment with new ingredients and styles. Consequently some breweries have begun to create brews that don’t follow the law, but they are not allowed to call them ‘beer’.
Meanwhile the Reinheitsgebot continues to have a number of supporters, and German beers brewed to its specifications have the status of a protected traditional foodstuff under European Union law.
On the 27th March 1963, Chairman of the British Transport Commission Dr Richard Beeching published his report entitled The Reshaping of British Railways. The first of two documents that outlined his plans for the reduction and restructuring of the British railway network, the subsequent Beeching Cuts resulted in the closure of 2,128 stations, thousands of miles of track, and the loss of up to 70,000 jobs.
By the end of the Second World War, road transport had grown exponentially and many of the nation’s railway lines were in a poor state of repair. In 1948 the railways were nationalised and became British Rail. However, economic recovery and the end of petrol rationing spurred a 10% annual increase in road vehicle mileage through to the 1960s, while railway income slowly fell below operating costs. By 1961 British Rail was operating at a loss of £300,000 per day.
Beeching was drafted in by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to make the railways profitable. His detailed analysis of rail traffic highlighted stations and lines that ran at a constant loss by raising very little income while their fixed operating costs remained high. He pointed out that stations and railway lines had broadly the same fixed costs whether they saw 1000 passengers a week or 6000.
Beeching’s report therefore recommended that 6,000 out of the existing 18,000 miles of railway line should be closed entirely, while others should only serve freight. Meanwhile 2,363 stations were to close. Not all the recommendations were implemented, but by the early 1970s thousands of miles of line, thousands of stations, and thousands of jobs had been cut.
On the 25th March 1957 the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for the European Economic Community, was signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The EEC, sometimes referred to as the Common Market, was formally established on the 1st January 1958 and survived, with some changes under the Maastricht Treaty, until 2009 when it was absorbed into the European Union.
The aim of the EEC was to establish economic integration between its members, such as a common market and customs union. However in reality the EEC operated beyond purely economic issues since it included organisations such as the European Atomic Energy Community that sought to generate and distribute nuclear energy to its member states.
The EEC was preceded by the European Coal and Steel Community, which came into force in 1952. The ECSC sought to amalgamate European coal and steel production in order to reconstruct Europe after the devastation of the Second World War and reduce the threat of a future conflict by establishing mutual economic reliance. Within just three years the idea of a customs union was being discussed, with the 1956 Intergovernmental Conference on the Common Market and Euratom establishing the parameters for the Treaty of Rome.
Over time the EEC expanded its membership with Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joining in 1973; the 1980s saw the addition of Greece, Spain and Portugal. With the creation of the European Union in 1993 and its absorption of the EEC in 2009 the union currently contains 28 states, the most recent member being Croatia in July 2013.
On the 15th February 1971, the United Kingdom and Ireland abandoned their old currency of pounds, shillings and pence and introduced a decimalised system. Thanks to a long transitional period that had been established prior to decimalisation, Decimal Day itself went relatively smoothly while shops continued to accept ‘old money’ for a few weeks afterwards in order to remove old coins from circulation.
Decimalisation wasn’t seriously considered by the British Parliament until the Halsbury Committee presented its report on decimal currency in 1963. The majority of the Commonwealth had either already adopted, or were in the process of adopting, decimal currency and so the time seemed right to reconsider Britain’s own stance. On the 1st March 1966 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, announced the government’s acceptance of the report’s recommendations and established the Decimal Currency Board.
Although the government didn’t pass the Decimal Currency Act until May 1969, production of the new coins had already begun at the new Royal Mint site in South Wales, which had opened the previous year. The gradual introduction of the new coins began in 1968, with 5p and 10p coins the first to enter circulation. They were exactly the same size and value as the existing one- and two-shilling coins, so ran alongside the old currency as their ‘decimal twins’. The following year the world’s first seven-sided coin was introduced, when the 50p piece replaced the 10-shilling note.
This prior introduction of three of the six new coins, together with an extensive publicity campaign, contributed greatly to the smoothness of Decimal Day when it finally came about in 1971.
On the 11th January 1923, French and Belgian troops marched into Germany and occupied the industrial Ruhr area. The two countries had grown increasingly frustrated by Germany frequently defaulting on its reparations that had been agreed in the Treaty of Versailles. The occupation was met with passive resistance, which was only called off on the 26th September as rampant hyperinflation crippled the German economy.
Although the French leader Raymond Poincaré was initially reluctant to occupy the Ruhr, he had grown increasingly exasperated by Germany’s regular defaults and the lack of international support for sanctions as a way to persuade her to pay. He argued strongly that the reparations themselves were not the key issue, but rather that allowing Germany to defy this part of the Treaty of Versailles could lead to further attempts to undermine the Treaty at a later date.
Despite these arguments it was Germany’s failure to provide the full quota of coal and timber in December 1922 that provided France and Belgium with the excuse to occupy the Ruhr on the 11th January 1923. They established the Inter-Allied Mission for Control of Factories and Mines to ensure that goods payments were made, but the Germans responded with a campaign of passive resistance. Tensions were high between the occupiers and Ruhr locals, and by the time Gustav Stresemann’s new government called off the strikes in September approximately 130 German civilians had been killed by the occupying army.
The occupation enabled France and Belgium to extract reparations, but it was Germany that won international sympathy. The last French troops finally left the Ruhr on the 25th August 1925.
On the 9th January 1799, modern income tax was introduced for the first time. William Pitt the Younger, the British Prime Minister, announced the tax the previous December as a way to pay for the wars against France. It stayed in force until 1802, at which point the Peace of Amiens secured a temporary break from hostilities, but was reintroduced in 1803 after the war recommenced.
Britain became involved in the French Revolutionary Wars after France declared war in 1792, and by 1799 almost continuous conflict had seriously weakened her finances. For much of this time the French had been better organised than the forces of the First and Second Coalitions, and Britain had found itself needing to offer financial support to other coalition members in order to maintain the size of force necessary to take on the French military machine.
However, this financial commitment had begun to run up a huge national debt, and attempts to reduce the cost of the military had led to starvation in the army and a mutiny in the navy. Holding joint positions of Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Pitt the Younger introduced his graduated or progressive income tax as “aid and contribution for the prosecution of the war”. The tax rate gradually increased from less than 1% of incomes of £60 up to 10% of incomes of £200 and was intended to be a temporary measure to pay for the war.
Interestingly, war also led the US federal government to introduce its first income tax on the 5th August 1861, which helped to pay for the American Civil War.