On the 15th November 1917, Georges Clemenceau was appointed Prime Minister of France for the second time. His appointment was something of a surprise, especially as it was made by President Raymond Poincare with whom he had a particularly frosty relationship. Clemenceau had previously held the position until 1909, after which he spent much of his time criticising the government in his own radical newspaper. However, within the first three years of the war three separate Prime Ministers had served and Poincare recognised that Clemenceau’s desire to defeat Germany made him the best replacement.
As 1917 wore on, the French government had become increasingly divided over whether to negotiate peace with Germany. Clemenceau was a fierce critic of this approach, having held a deep-seated hatred of Germany since France’s loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War five years before he was first elected to parliament. His appointment therefore heralded a marked change in government as he sought to consolidate French support behind its troops.
In a speech three days after his appointment, Clemenceau declared, “Nothing but the war. Our armies will not be caught between fire from two sides. Justice will be done. The country will know that it is defended.” This coincided with a clampdown on pacifist opponents and suspected traitors, and he continued to speak in favour of ‘war until the end’ until Germany’s surrender in November 1918. Victory was a double-edged sword: he now needed to negotiate the terms of the peace treaty with Wilson and Lloyd-George, which he described a like being “between Jesus Christ on the one hand, and Napoleon Bonaparte on the other.”
In the evening of the 9th November 1989, the East German government opened the Berlin Wall after central committee spokesman Guenter Schabowski mistakenly announced that GDR citizens could cross into West Berlin with immediate effect. Surprised border guards, who had been given no information about the new rules, were overwhelmed by the appearance of thousands of East Germans who wanted to cross. Although the border remained closed for around three hours, by 11pm the checkpoint at Bornholmer Strasse had been opened. Others followed soon after.
Communist Hungary had opened its Austrian border in September, which had encouraged East Germans to push for reform in their own country. Eventually, the weekly ‘Monday protests’ that attracted hundreds of thousands of people forced the government to prepare the new travel policy.
Although the new policy had been agreed by the Politburo on the afternoon of the 9th November, their intention was to implement the policy the next day so that border guards could be briefed and crossings managed in a controlled manner. However, Schabowski had not been at the Politburo meeting and so was only able to base his announcement on notes from a piece of paper handed to him shortly before the press conference. This explains his mistake over the timing of its introduction.
The announcement led huge crowds to begin gathering at the checkpoints, with thousands pouring through the border after the guards finally relented. Ironically, West Berliners still had to have a visa in order to cross to the East. Therefore, for a few weeks after the Wall was opened, East Berliners actually had greater freedom of movement than Westerners.
On the 5th November 1605, the Gunpowder Plot was foiled when Guy or Guido Fawkes was discovered guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in an undercroft below the House of Lords in London. The failure of the plot and execution of the conspirators has since been commemorated in Britain on what is known as Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night, where effigies of Guy Fawkes are traditionally burned on a bonfire amidst large firework displays.
The Gunpowder Plot was conceived at a time of significant religious tension in the British Isles. Less than a century had passed since Henry VIII broke from Rome, and Catholics continued to be persecuted when James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England. Led by Robert Catesby, a group of thirteen Catholics conspired to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament, when James would be inside the building. Having killed the king, they would then initiate a revolt that would bring James’ young daughter Elizabeth to the throne as a puppet queen. However, the plot was revealed in an anonymous letter and the search of the undercroft was conducted late in the evening of the 4th November.
Most people know that Guy Fawkes, along with the other surviving conspirators, was sentenced to execution by being hung, drawn and quartered. However, what is less widely known is that he managed to leap from the gallows and break his neck. Fawkes was therefore already dead by the time the executioner began to carry out the more gruesome parts of his sentence.
On the 13th October 1792 the cornerstone of the White House, which at the time was to be known as the United States Executive Mansion, was laid. Construction took 8 years, with John Adams being the first President to take up residence when he moved in on Saturday 1st November, 1800.
The foundations of the White House, and the main residence, were built by African-American slaves, alongside some freemen and employed Europeans. However other work, such as the dressing and laying of the sandstone walls, was completed by immigrant masons – primarily from Scotland. According to the White House Historical Association, slave labour was used for the building due to the poor response to adverts for paid construction workers, although records show that slaves were hired from their masters rather than being owned by the government itself.
The White House was built as part of the development of the Federal City – a national capital founded under the terms of the 1790 Residence Act. A competition, organised by Thomas Jefferson, led to the White House being built according to a design by Irish-born James Hoban, during which time Philadelphia in Pennsylvania served as the temporary capital. Hoban’s design was greatly influenced by Dublin’s Leinster House alongside various other Georgian-era buildings in Ireland.
The walls of the White House are sandstone, but they get their familiar colour and name from whitewash applied after construction. The story that the building was painted white to hide damage inflicted during the 1814 Burning of Washington is sadly untrue. However, the White House did have to undergo a major reconstruction project that lasted until 1817.
On the 10th October 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union, whose members came to be known as suffragettes, was founded at the Manchester home of Sylvia and Emmeline Pankhurst. Frustrated by the lack of progress made by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies from whom the group had split, the WSPU soon became known for its militant and sometimes violent actions under the motto “Deeds, not words”.
The WSPU did not seek universal suffrage, rather votes for women on the same basis as votes for men. Considering many men at the time were denied the vote due to the property qualifications, the proposals by the WSPU were seen by some not as “votes for women” but “votes for ladies”. The WSPU even split from the Labour Party after Labour voted in favour of universal suffrage, leading the suffragettes to became more explicitly middle-class.
However, the actions of the suffragettes soon brought into question the traditional ideas of ladylike behavior as they were routinely arrested for various activities that were designed to shock the refined members of the establishment. It was to distinguish these actions from the more genteel suffrage groups that the Daily Mail newspaper reporter Charles Hands coined the term ‘suffragette’ to describe members of the WSPU.
Actions such as window breaking and arson routinely saw members of the WSPU imprisoned, where they would often go on hunger strike and be subjected to force-feeding by the authorities. However, the best known action is probably that of Emily Davison who was killed after stepping in front of the King’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby.
On September 12th 1919, Adolf Hitler officially joined the German Workers’ Party (DAP). At the time no membership cards were issued but, when they made available in January 1920, Hitler was given membership number 55 although he later claimed in Mein Kampf to have been the seventh. Hitler was actually the seventh executive member of the Party’s central committee. His membership card actually identified him as number 555 since the party began its numbering at 500 in order to make it appear to have more members than it really did.
At the time Hitler was working as an army intelligence officer who had been tasked with infiltrating the German Workers’ Party. However, he was attracted to the angry rhetoric of the founder – Anton Drexler – and during a party meeting in the first floor restaurant of the Sterneckerbräu beer hall in Munich on the 12th September put forward a passionate argument denouncing the views of another speaker. In Mein Kampf Hitler describes Drexler as being impressed by his oratorical skills, which resulted in him being invited to join the party.
Despite members of the army not being permitted to have membership of a political party, Hitler was given special permission to join the DAP. However, before long his role in the party began to eclipse his role in the military and he was discharged from the army on the 31st March 1920 after which he began working full-time for the renamed National Socialist German Workers Party.
The Sterneckerbräu building still exists in Munich, although the beer hall has gone and it is now used for residential and commercial purposes.
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.
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.
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 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.