On the 2nd June 1946, Italians voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy and turn their country into a republic. The question was simple: Monarchy or Republic? More than 89% of eligible Italian citizens voted in the referendum, with 54.3% voting in favour of a republic.
Italy had emerged from the Second World War as a country torn apart by conflict. The royal family was blamed by many people for allowing the growth and domination of Mussolini’s fascist regime, and was therefore also held responsible for the war and the Italian defeat. Even the wartime king, Victor Emmanuel III, had recognised the precarious nature of his position when Mussolini’s government collapse in 1944, and so handed over the responsibilities of head of state to his son, Crown Prince Umberto.
Umberto II formally ascended to the Italian throne in May 1946 but, despite his relative popularity with the Italian population compared to his predecessor, the pro-monarchy campaign was unable to gain sufficient support. However, the results of the referendum demonstrated a very clear split between a generally pro-republican north (where 2/3 of the population voted to abolish the monarchy) and a pro-monarchist south where 2/3 of the population wanted to keep it.
Umberto II was magnanimous and dignified in defeat. In his final speech to the Italian people he didn’t bear them any ill will, and encouraged them to be loyal to the republic. The monarchy formally ended on the 12th June 1946, and Umberto was exiled to Portugal. He died in 1983, having never set foot in Italy again.
On the 13th February 1689, William and Mary became co-regents of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland after agreeing to the Declaration of Right. On the 5th November the previous year William, the head of state of the Dutch Republic, landed at Torbay after being invited by a group of English Parliamentarians to invade England. His Dutch fleet and army went on to oust the Catholic King James II, his wife Mary’s father, in the so-called Glorious Revolution. James was allowed to flee the country and later took up exile in France.
The Declaration of Right, which became a Bill after it was formally passed on the 16th December, joined other documents such as Magna Carta and the Petition of Right as a central part of the uncodified British constitution. The Declaration placed limits on the monarch’s power and confirmed Parliament’s own rights, ensuring that it was free to function without royal interference. Furthermore, it banned Catholics from the throne.
Parliament originally only wanted to offer the crown to Mary, with William as Prince Consort, but the couple pressed for co-regency. Parliament agreed, and so on the 13th February the couple was declared king and queen. Their coronation took place on the 11th April.
The Glorious Revolution was not seen as such by everyone. The Bill of Right was both politically and religiously divisive, laying the foundations for generations of conflict. Beginning with the Williamite–Jacobite War that confirmed British and Protestant rule in Ireland, the Protestant Ascendancy established political, economic and social domination of the country for over two centuries.
On the 18th January 1871, Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed the first German Emperor. The creation of the federal Empire made Wilhelm the head of state and president of the federated monarchies that made up the 27 constituent territories.
Wilhelm had been made the President of the North German Confederation on its formation in 1867, and during the Franco-Prussian War took a leading role in the command of the German forces. With patriotic fervour as a result of the enormously successful German advance, in November 1870 the remaining states south of the river Main joined the North German Confederation.
The next month, on the 10th December, the Reichstag of the Confederation renamed itself the German Empire. Wilhelm was formally declared the German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles on the 18th January. The title was accepted grudgingly by Wilhelm who would have preferred “Emperor of Germany” rather than “German Emperor”, but Bismarck warned that this would be dangerous as it suggested he had a claim to other Germanic lands such as Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland. He also refused to be titled “Emperor of the Germans”, since this would have suggested he ruled with permission from the German people rather than by “the grace of God”. As a believer in divine right, this suggestion was unacceptable to him.
Three months later, on the 14th April, the Reichstag adopted the German Constitution. This stated that the King of Prussia would be the permanent President of the confederation of states that formed the Empire. Therefore, the role of Emperor was directly tied to the Prussian crown.
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.
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 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 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.