On the 17th September 1978 the Camp David Accords, which led to the first ever peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state, were signed by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Brokered by US President Jimmy Carter, the two frameworks that were agreed upon gained their name from the Presidential retreat at Camp David where the negotiations took place.
Having accepted Carter’s invitation to attend talks, Begin didn’t expect to leave with anything more than a framework for future meetings. Egypt and Israel had been at war for a number of years, and the likelihood of reaching any agreement was slim.
Over a period of thirteen days, the three leaders engaged in a number of heated discussions that broke down to the point where Carter needed to meet with each leader separately. At times both leaders threatened to scrap the talks, but Carter succeeded in being able to salvage the situation and keep them at Camp David. The political cost of leaving without an agreement was certainly in the forefront of each man’s mind – nobody wanted to shoulder the blame for the collapse of the Middle East peace process.
The talks concluded with the signing of two separate agreements – “A Framework for Peace in the Middle East” and “A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel”. The former was condemned by the UN for being conducted without involvement of the Palestinians, and the second led to Sadat’s assassination by Islamic extremists who were angered that he had made peace with Israel.
The Revolución Libertadora began in Argentina, resulting in the end of Juan Perón’s second term as President.
Juan Perón had been elected President of Argentina in 1946 with overwhelming support from the country’s working class thanks in large part to his wife, Evita. Perón went on to win a second term but, before long, the economy began to falter. This coincided with Evita’s death from cancer in July 1952, and Perón soon found his support amongst the working classes declining.
By 1955 Perón’s government had become increasingly repressive. The Catholic Church began to turn against the President in the face of controversial legislation that would legalise prostitution and divorce, and in return was threatened with the separation of church and state.
Meanwhile Perón lost the support of large swathes of the military. Just days after 100,000 people joined a Corpus Christi procession that turned into an anti-Perón demonstration, thirty navy and air force planes killed more than 300 people when they bombed the Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires.
Although this revolt was put down, tensions continued to mount. On 16 September, the military in Cordoba seized control of the city, and large swathes of the country’s armed forces came out against the President. Within two days Buenos Aires was facing a blockade, and the country was on the brink of civil war.
With no other options open to him, Perón resigned the Presidency on 19 September and fled to exile in Paraguay. Four days later General Eduardo Lonardi, one of the coup’s leaders, became the provisional president after being greeted in Buenos Aires by the largest crowd in the city’s history.
South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko died in Pretoria prison from injuries inflicted while in police custody.
Bantu Stephen Biko established the South African Students’ Organisation, and developed the ideology of Black Consciousness to challenge the apartheid system of racial segregation and white-minority rule. Having voted in favour of the Black People’s Convention in 1972, by 1973 Biko’s activities had caught the attention of the authorities. The government were concerned that the Black Consciousness Movement, and Biko himself, were a threat to the political situation in South Africa. In response a banning order was placed on him and a number of other anti-apartheid activists.
Despite the banning order severely restricting his activities by restricting him from leaving King William’s Town, Biko continued to be involved in the anti-apartheid movement and was arrested and held without charge four times between 1975-77. However, on 17 August 1977 he broke the terms of his banning order by driving to Cape Town in the hope of meeting with the leader of the Unity Movement, Neville Alexander. On his return the next day, Biko was stopped at a police roadblock and taken into custody.
While held in Port Elizabeth, Biko was interrogated while shackled, handcuffed and naked. Although the exact details of the interrogation have never been established, it has since been acknowledged that Biko was violently assaulted to such an extent that he suffered brain injuries that led to a haemorrhage. Having been sent to Pretoria for medical treatment, on 12 September Biko died in his cell of what the autopsy referred to as an ‘extensive brain injury’. His death attracted global attention and intensified international criticism of apartheid.
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.
On the 5th August 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested near the South African town of Howick and imprisoned facing charges of inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country without a passport. He wasn’t released for nearly 28 years.
Mandela was a leading figure of the anti-apartheid movement and protested peacefully against the racist system. However, having been imprisoned after being found guilty of treason, he adopted more militant tactics on his release and soon became a wanted man. His arrest came after he spent 6 months travelling in disguise around Africa and to London in order to win support for the movement.
The trial began on the 15th October, with Mandela representing himself and using his defence speeches as a way to promote the African National Congress’ “moral opposition to racism”. In his “black man in a white man’s court” speech, for example, he said he would serve the sentence handed down by the court but would continue to fight against racial discrimination.
Having been sentenced to five years imprisonment Mandela was jailed in Pretoria, Robben Island, and Pretoria again within a 9 month period. Shortly after his return to Pretoria he and nine other defendants were charged on four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government and put on trial in what became known as the “Rivonia Trial”. The trial brought international attention to the anti-apartheid struggle but, having been found guilty, Mandela and his co-defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela was finally released in 1990 after 27 years, six months and five days.
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 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/