On the 19th August 1991 Mikhail Gorbachev, the President of the Soviet Union, was placed under house arrest in what is known as the August Coup. Opposed to Gorbachev’s reforms, the leaders of the coup believed that the new Union of Sovereign States, which had been approved in a union-wide referendum, threatened the complete disintegration of the USSR. A number of individual states had already declared their independence, but the New Union Treaty would devolve much of the Soviet Union’s remaining power to individual states.
It was while Gorbachev was on holiday in Foros, a resort in the Crimea, that the coup was launched. On the 17th August, the coup’s leaders met with Gorbachev and demanded that he either declare a state of emergency or resign. Although the specific details of the conversation are unclear, the outcome was that Gorbachev refused.
Gorbachev was placed under house arrest, and the leaders of the coup – known as the Gang of Eight – created the State Committee of the State of Emergency to govern the USSR due to Gorbachev suffering from an “illness”. The changes in government were announced on state media on the morning of the 19th but, having chosen not to arrest Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the coup faced a blow when he began speaking against it. Two days later, the military supporting the coup failed to take control of the Russian parliament building in the face of civil resistance.
The coup collapsed on the 21st August, but the USSR was left seriously weakened. Just over four months later the Soviet Union was officially dissolved.
The Weimar Republic was officially established on 11th August 1919, when Friedrich Ebert signed the new constitution into law. The National Assembly that created the constitution had convened in the city of Weimar, which is why the state of Germany from the inauguration of the new constitution until Hitler became Fuhrer is generally referred to as the Weimar Republic. However, its official name continued to be Deutsches Reich which had first been adopted in 1871.
The Weimar Republic was born amid civil strife and open revolt that engulfed cities across Germany in the closing weeks of the First World War. The November Revolution actually began at the end of October 1918, but quickly spread from the port of Kiel to reach as far as the southern city of Munich by the 7th November.
The “German Republic” was declared on the 9th November, shortly after Kaiser Wilhelm II’s abdication was announced. Power was swiftly transferred to Friedrich Ebert, who reluctantly accepted it and formed a coalition government known as the “Council of the People’s Deputies”. It was this government that therefore signed the armistice on the 11th November, and which authorised the brutal suppression of the Spartacist Uprising in January 1919. Just four days after the deaths of Spartacist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht elections for the National Assembly took place, which convened in Weimar in order to avoid the unrest in Berlin.
It took the best of part of seven months for the delegates to agree on the terms of the constitution, and Ebert signed it into law while on holiday in Schwarzburg.
On the 10th August 1792, French revolutionary troops stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Referred to by some historians as ‘the Second Revolution’ the events of the 10th August suspended the monarchy under King Louis XVI.
The royal family had lived in the Tuileries since the October Days of 1789 saw them brought back to Paris from Versailles. Louis and his family were virtually imprisoned, as proved when crowds barred them from moving to their summer residence in April 1791. This may have influenced Louis to carry out the failed Flight to Varennes two months later, after which the family were more officially held under house arrest in the Tuileries Palace.
The relationship between the royal family and the people of Paris continued to decline throughout 1792. The king did himself no favours by vetoing a range of decrees passed by the Legislative Assembly, but the situation grew worse with the threat of invasion from foreign armies. By the time of the Brunswick Manifesto on 1st August that lent foreign support to the royal family, the crowds of Paris held Louis and the concept of monarchy in absolute contempt.
On the morning of the 10th August, crowds massed outside the Tuileries. With Louis opting to take shelter in the Legislative Assembly building, his Swiss Guard who were left to defend the palace were eventually overrun after they ran out of ammunition. Approximately 800 people on the king’s side were killed, and Paris was put in the hands of the revolutionaries while the royal family were sent to the Temple prison.
On the 9th August 1974, Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States of America while facing impeachment and the almost certain removal from office due to the Watergate Scandal. Although Nixon’s impeachment trial was not completed due to his resignation, it is the only time in American history that impeachment has resulted in the departure from office of its target.
The Watergate Scandal began when five men were arrested inside the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington D.C.’s Watergate building on June 17, 1972. It was soon discovered, thanks primarily to two journalists and an anonymous informant nicknamed Deep Throat, that the men were connected to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President that was in charge of Nixon’s campaign.
Although Nixon probably didn’t personally know about the break-in in advance, he did later attempt to cover up the details by getting the CIA to force the FBI to abandon its investigation. Despite this attempt, details later emerged of the Republican Party connection to the break-in and of other “dirty tricks” carried out against the Democrats in the run-up to the Presidential election.
The release of taped conversations held in the Oval Office between Nixon and his aides provided more evidence of wrong-doing. When the so-called “Smoking Gun Tape” was released on the 5th August, in which Nixon personally agreed that the CIA should ask the FBI to stop the investigation, any remaining support for the President disappeared. He announced his resignation in a televised speech on the 8th August and it took effect from noon the next day.
On the 2nd August 1934, the 86 year old German Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg died of lung cancer and Adolf Hitler became both the Führer and Reich Chancellor of the German People. It effectively merged the offices of both the President and Chancellor into one role, and therefore completed what the Nazis referred to as Gleichschaltung (or “Co-ordination”) by establishing Hitler as both Germany’s head of state and head of government.
Interfering with the post of President was illegal under the terms of the 1933 Enabling Act, and although Hitler merging the two positions removed any political checks and balances of his personal domination of Germany, a plebiscite held 17 days later on the 19th August saw an enormous 90% of people approving of the change.
Hitler’s assumption of the role of Führer also allowed the Nazi Party to more actively pursue its promotion of the ideology of Führerprinzip. This stated that Hitler possessed absolute control over the German government. Supported by a propaganda machine that relentlessly pushed the slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer – which translates as “One People, One Empire, One Leader” – the Führerprinzip also confirmed the Nazi Party’s complete control over every element of German society. This ranged from local government to factories and even to the management and control schools, although in terms of government it sometimes meant that officials were reluctant to make decisions without Hitler’s personal input or approval. It was also used by Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials to argue that they were not guilty since they were only following orders.
On the 5th July 1948, healthcare provision in the UK was nationalized when the National Health Service was launched. The idea was to bring together everyone involved in healthcare provision into one organisation that would provide care that was “free at the point of delivery”. Funding would come directly from taxation, meaning that people paid for the service according to their means.
The Labour government of Clement Atlee won the first post-war election with a pledge to implement the recommendations of the 1942 Beveridge Report and improve the social welfare system in Britain. The following year the National Health Service Act 1946 created the NHS in England and Wales, while NHS Scotland was established in 1947.
The NHS didn’t appear without opposition, however. The Conservative Party was particularly hostile to providing universal care through taxation, while many consultants and doctors were concerned about low pay and the loss of the opportunity to top up their earnings by taking on private patients.
The health minister, Bevan, recognised the problem of having a nationalised health system without consultants and doctors so agreed to raise the pay for consultants. He also allowed them and GPs to run their own private practices.
The first year of the NHS was incredibly expensive, costing more than twice the budgeted amount. However, Bevan claimed that this was due to years of under-provision, and a ‘rush’ to take advantage in case free healthcare was later scrapped. Although costs have continued to rise with continued advances in medical science, the NHS is still a central part of the UK’s identity.
On the 7th June 1628, the Petition of Right was approved by King Charles I. The Petition is a major Constitutional document that recognises four key principles of government: no taxation without the consent of Parliament, no imprisonment without cause, no quartering of soldiers on subjects, and no martial law in peacetime. It is still in force today.
A major reason for the Petition of Right was that Charles firmly believed in Divine Right – the idea that God had chosen him to rule. This encouraged Charles to rule by Royal Prerogative, meaning he tried to govern without consulting parliament. However, Parliament felt that Charles was overreaching his authority, especially when he began gathering “forced loans” from his subjects and imprisoning anyone who refused to pay. They were angered by Charles taking money from his subjects without Parliamentary approval, and by imprisonment without trial that undermined Magna Carta and habeas corpus.
What was notable about the passage of the Petition of Right was that both the House of Commons and the House of Lords – which had traditionally supported the monarchy – had approved it. Despite this, Charles was initially unwilling to ratify it and even sent a message to the Commons “forbidding them to meddle with affairs of state”. When it became clear that Parliament would not back down, Charles finally relented and ratified the Petition on the 7th June. However he continued to govern the country in much the same way as before, setting in place a major factor for the outbreak of the English Civil War less than fifteen years later.
On the 13th March 1881, Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated in a St Petersburg street by a member of the People’s Will revolutionary movement. Despite introducing a number of reforms such as the 1861 emancipation of the serfs and the abolition of capital punishment, Alexander’s government remained autocratic and after an assassination attempt in 1866 began to brutally repress those who sought political change.
Despite this, by the 1870s the government was coming under increasing pressure from liberals and radicals to introduce further reforms. Land and Liberty, a group of reformers who sought land reform, soon gave rise to the People’s Will which favoured terrorism as a way to achieve their aims. The Tsar became the focus for a number of attacks from 1879 onwards, but finally succumbed on the 13th March 1881.
Alexander was travelling close to the Catherine Canal when a bomb was thrown at his closed carriage by a member of the People’s Will. The blast killed one of the accompanying Cossacks and injured many others, but the Tsar was unharmed. Emerging shaken from his armoured carriage, however, another assassin threw his bomb which landed at Alexander’s feet.
Suffering from severe bleeding, the Tsar was taken to the Winter Palace where he died from his wounds. Somewhat ironically, Alexander had just that morning signed the Loris-Melikov constitution which would have established an elected parliament known as a Duma. However, this was rejected by his son and heir, Alexander III who instead further suppressed civil liberties through the Okhrana. Alexander II’s death therefore arguably slowed down, rather than sped up, the move to a parliamentary democracy.
On the 4th March 1789, the United States constitution went into effect when the first US Congress met. However, the Congress was unable to actually vote on anything until the first week of April since it did not have the necessary number of members to be quorate.
The Congress itself met in New York City, but the 18th Century’s slow forms of transport meant that many of the members didn’t arrive on time. The grueling journey on horseback, or by stagecoach or sailing ship meant that the House of Representatives didn’t reach quorum until the 1st April, while the Senate was delayed until the 6th April. It was only then, after the houses met in a joint session to count the Electoral College votes, that they were able to certify George Washington had been elected President with John Adams as Vice President.
In line with the Constitution, Adams became President of the Senate while Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania was elected Speaker of the House. He was later to become the first to sign the Bill of Rights, which became the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Representative James Madison presented the bill on the 8th June, and after three months of discussion twelve articles were approved by Congress on the 25th September. Ten of these – articles Three to Twelve – were ratified two years later and became the Bill of Rights on the 15th December 1791.
March 4th continued to be a significant date for Congress, until the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1933 and set the 3rd of January as the first day for Congresses to meet.
On the 14th November 1990, Margaret Thatcher’s fifteen year leadership of the British Conservative Party was challenged by Michael Heseltine, a former cabinet minister. Although she won the leadership election that took place on 20th November, she did not do so with a sufficiently large majority to result in an outright victory. Thatcher announced her resignation two days later, on the 22nd November.
Thatcher became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom following the General Election of 1979 but by the late 1980s her popularity, along with that of her party, was plummeting. Interest rates had been raised to 15% in an attempt to bring rampant inflation under control, but the economy was suffering as the first stages of recession took hold. Regular opinion polls had put the Labour Party ahead of the Conservatives for the 18th consecutive month by autumn 1990.
Amidst internal party disagreements over Britain’s relationship with the European Economic Community, Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Howe resigned from the cabinet on the 1st November. His resignation speech on the 13th, in which he portrayed Thatcher as a divisive and confrontational leader, is seen by many as prompting Heseltine’s leadership challenge the next day.
Thatcher needed to secure a margin of 56 votes over Heseltine in order to win the contest outright, but she came in four below that. Initially determined to contest the second ballot, she consulted with a range of Cabinet members who gave mixed responses on her chances of winning. Consequently she withdrew her candidacy and thus leadership of the Party on the 22nd November. John Major went on to win the leadership.