On the 22nd July 1706, the foundation for the establishment of the Kingdom of Great Britain was laid when commissioners from England and Scotland agreed the Acts of Union. Although both countries had been under the same monarch since King James I and VI, it took over a century for the two countries to be united as Great Britain.
Previous attempts to unite Scotland and England had taken place since James came to the throne, but each had resulted in failure. However by the start of the 18th century each country found itself in a position where political union would be advantageous. Scotland would benefit from the economic security of union, while England hoped to remove Scotland as a ‘backdoor’ for French attacks or a possible Jacobite restoration.
The 31 English and 31 Scottish commissioners chosen to carry out negotiations for union first met at the Cockpit, a government building at Whitehall in London, on 16th April. As well as their demands, each side also had a bargaining card: England would grant Scotland freedom of trade and access to colonial markets, while Scotland would agree to Hanoverian succession after Queen Anne.
The demands and compromises lined up incredibly well with each other, and after just three days the commissioners had agreed on the basic principles of union. However, it took three months in total to draw up the detailed treaty before it could go to the Scottish and English Parliaments to be ratified. Royal assent was given on the 6th March 1707, and on May 1st the Acts went into effect.
On the 2nd July 1964, American President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law at the White House. The Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and is consequently viewed as a landmark piece of civil rights legislation.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act originated in the Presidency of John F. Kennedy, who had shared the statistics of racial inequality with the American people, such as the fact that life expectancy for an African-American was seven years less than that of a white American. It was also a time when Civil Rights protests were growing in size and number. In a televised speech on the 11th June 1963, Kennedy made clear his intention to introduce a law that would end segregation and increase equality for all Americans.
Kennedy’s assassination on the 22nd November 1963 led to Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as President, and he immediately took up the cause with a speech saying that the passage of the Civil Rights Act would serve as a lasting memorial to Kennedy. However opposition to the bill remained high, especially in southern and border states, whose representatives in both the Congress and the Senate did what they could to sabotage the bill. Despite such attempts to disrupt it, various behind-the-scenes deals eventually helped the bill to pass through each house with the required two-thirds majority.
The Act was referred to by Martin Luther King as a “second emancipation” and laid the foundations for later laws that expanded the legal right for all Americans to be treated equally.
On the 20th June 1789 at Versailles in France, the National Assembly swore the Tennis Court Oath in which they vowed not to separate until a written constitution had been established for the country.
Faced with enormous financial difficulties, Louis XVI had called a meeting of the Estates General that first convened in early May. This involved representatives of the three Estates – the clergy, the nobility and the non-privileged common people known as the Third Estate – meeting with the king at Versailles in an attempt to solve the economic crisis. However, the allocation of votes was unfair so the representatives of the Third Estate separated themselves from the main group and met separately. On the 13th June, by which time they had been joined by some nobles and the majority of the clergy, they declared themselves the National Assembly.
However, when the king ordered their usual meeting room to be closed and guarded by soldiers, the National Assembly feared that the king was about to force them to disband. The National Assembly instead relocated to a nearby building used for playing jeu de paume, a forerunner of modern tennis, where they swore the oath. The Tennis Court Oath therefore didn’t really happen in a tennis court, but the name has stuck.
The Oath was significant for being a collective action by French citizens against their king. Faced with such opposition Louis finally relented and, on June 27th, he ordered the remaining nobles to join the National Assembly and ended the Estates General.
On the 27th May 1199 King John was crowned at Westminster Abbey. The previous king, his brother Richard, had died after being shot in the shoulder by a crossbow. John ruled for seventeen years before contracting dysentery while in Kings Lynn, an illness from which he later died. John’s reign saw him lose control of the Angevin Empire, lose the crown jewels in the mud of East Anglia, and lose significant monarchical power under the terms of the Magna Carta.
John’s claim to the throne wasn’t entirely clear-cut since Arthur, the son of John’s older brother Geoffrey, was another possible heir. His claim was also supported by a large contingent of French nobles, and the French king Phillip II himself, who hoped to fragment the Angevin Empire. This laid the foundations for John’s ongoing struggles in mainland Europe, which gradually eroded his control over the lands of the Angevin Empire.
The fact that John succeeded in his bid to be crowned was significant. Medieval monarchs got their legal authority from their coronation, where they swore the coronation oath and were then anointed, girted, crowned, invested and enthroned. However, although the coronation gave the King the legal authority to rule the country, it was still based on him abiding by the coronation oath. Rebellious barons argued that John failed to do this since, like his predecessors, he sometimes took executive decisions on the basis that the king was above the law. This set in motion calls for a ‘law of the land’ that was to result in the Magna Carta.
On 5th May 1260, Kublai Khan was declared Emperor of the Mongolian Empire. A grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai reigned for 34 years and established the Yuan dynasty that was the first non-Han dynasty to control the whole of China. This is significant, because the Mongols were traditionally a nomadic tribe who ruled by the sword rather than diplomacy.
The area governed by Kublai Khan was enormous, sweeping from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Black Sea in the west, and from Afghanistan in the south to Siberia in the north. Historian John Man, who wrote noted a biography of Kublai, estimates that this area was approximately one fifth of the entire world’s populated area.
Having had little experience of political government, Kublai Khan was only able to rule his vast Empire by employing a range of civil servants and foreign administrators. Arguably the most famous of these was the Venetian explorer, Marco Polo, who met and worked for him for a number of years. Although he was not the first European to visit China, Marco Polo was the first to document life in the Empire in any great detail and is the Western origin for many accounts of life in China under Kublai Khan. Although his writings broadly praised Kublai as the model sovereign, he did recognise his weaknesses. Despite being heralded as a Chinese Emperor, it was Kublai’s failure to fully integrate the Mongols into Chinese society that led to the downfall of his dynasty.
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 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.