February 28th 1525: Cuauhtémoc executed

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Cuauhtémoc (c. 1495 – 1525)

 

On this day in 1525, the Aztec ruler of Tenochtitlán Cuauhtémoc was executed by Hernán Cortés’s Spanish forces. Cuauhtémoc began his reign in 1520 soon after his relative Moctezuma II died in battle with the Spanish. Becoming ruler at the young age of 25, he came to power over a land besieged. He faced the threat of the Spanish invasion and a smallpox epidemic, and battled bravely to save Tenochtitlán.

 

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Torture of Cuauhtémoc (late 19th Century painting by Leandro Izaguirre)

 

However Cuauhtémoc was captured on August 13th 1521, along with his family and most of the remaining Tenochtitlán nobles. The king asked Cortés to kill him, but the conquistador refused and initially let him go. However, lust for the fabled Aztec gold was too much, and Cortés’s forces eventually recaptured and tortured Cuauhtémoc to find its whereabouts.

 

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Hernán Cortés (1485 – 1547)

 

In 1525, Cortés ordered Cuauhtémoc executed for supposedly plotting to kill leading Spaniards, Cortés included. This claim has never been verified, but Cuauhtémoc is remembered in Mexico as a brave warrior who fought to save his country from the invaders. The Aztec Empire was a rich culture, and its history was tragically cut short by the arrival of European colonialists. However the memory of the empire, and its brave leaders like Moctezuma and Cuauhtémoc, endures to this day.

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February 27th 1892: Louis Vuitton dies

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Louis Vuitton (1821 – 1892)

 

On this day in 1892 the French businessman Louis Vuitton, founder of the namesake fashion brand, died aged 70. From a working class French family, Vuitton had ambitions beyond his small hometown of Anchay. He famously spent two years traveling to Paris on foot between 1835 and 1837. Once there he had great success as a box maker, eventually becoming Emperor Napoleon III’s wife’s personal box maker. He established the Louis Vuitton company in 1854, and passed the business to his son George upon his death in 1892.

 

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Louis Vuitton logo

 

Louis Vuitton remains one of the world’s leading high-fashion brands, alongside such names as Ralph Lauren and Gucci. Louis Vuitton bags are a highly valued fashion item. Personally I am a bit fashion-blind so I struggle to understand some of the attraction of these items. However for dedicated followers of fashion (couldn’t resist a Kinks reference here!), they are very important. Despite being generally ignorant of fashion, it is a testament to the enduring popularity of Vuitton’s company that they have such name recognition beyond those with a specific interest in fashion.

February 26th 1993: World Trade Center bombing

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FBI agents view the damage from the bomb

On this day in 1993 a truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The bomb was intended to knock the North Tower into the South Tower to destroy them both but failed. The attack still killed six (including a pregnant woman) and injured over one thousand.

 

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Time magazine – March 8th 1993

The terrorist attack was planned by a group of conspirators and masterminded by Ramzi Yousef. In 1994, four men were convicted of carrying out the bombing and two more in 1997. The group were funded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who would go on to be the principal architect behind the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11th 2001. The memorial to the victims of the 1993 attack was destroyed on 9/11 but they are currently commemorated at the North Pool of the National 9/11 Memorial, opened in 2011. Whilst their names are only six among the nearly three thousand victims of the 2001 attack, it is poignant that they are not forgotten. Their deaths remain a tragic precursor to the devastating effects of September 11th 2001.

 

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Names of the 1993 victims on the 9/11 memorial in New York City

 

An eye-witness to the events, Bruce Pomper, made thus chilling comment about the 1993 attack:

“It felt like an airplane hit the building”

February 25th 1870: Hiram Rhodes Revels inaugurated

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Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827 – 1901)

On this day in 1870 Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African-American to sit in Congress, was inaugurated into the Senate as a Republican representing Mississippi. Before he was elected to the Senate, Revels was a Methodist minister and led black Union regiments during the Civil War. The passage of the fourteenth amendment in 1868 provided legal equality for African-Americans recently freed from slavery, paving the way for them to be elected to public office. Revels gained his post after the Mississippi state legislature voted for Revels to fill one of the state’s Senate seats which had been vacant since Mississippi seceded.

 

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1870 letter from the Mississippi Governor certifying Revels’s election as United States Senator

His appointment was initially resisted by the Senate, and his legitimacy was debated for several days. On February 25th, the Senate voted to allow Revels to take up his seat, with only Republicans voting for him and Democrats against. His inauguration that day received a standing ovation as the Senate witnessed the first African-American member of Congress joining their ranks. Revels served one term in the Senate, consistently pushing for racial equality, until he resigned in 1871 to become a college president. Revels is an important and under-acknowledged figure in American history. Revels paved the way for other African-Americans to shatter the glass ceiling and reach the upper rungs of government. He defied those who questioned the ability of freed blacks to integrate into society and was the embodiment of political integrity and eloquence. Without Revels there may not have been a Robert Weaver (first African-American cabinet member), a Thurgood Marshall (first African-American Supreme Court justice), or even a Barack Obama (first African-American President).

February 24th 1803: Marbury v. Madison

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Inscription of Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in the Supreme Court building

On this day in 1803 in the case Marbury v. Madison the US Supreme Court established the principle of judicial review. The principle was outlined in the majority opinion by Chief Justice John Marshall, the words of which are inscribed on the wall of the Supreme Court building.  The case arose when Secretary of State James Madison failed to deliver documents to Justice of the Peace for DC William Marbury which officially granted his title. The Court decided that the section of the 1789 Judiciary Act allowing Marbury to bring his claim to the Court was itself unconstitutional.

 

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William Marbury (1762-1835)

 

On February 24th the Court ruled unanimously to this effect. The decision gave the Supreme Court the power to interpret the constitution and strike down laws as ‘unconstitutional’. Since then, the Court have made many high-profile rulings branding things unconstitutional. For example: school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954); school prayer in Engel v. Vitale (1962); teaching creationism in science lessons in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) and the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor (2013).

 

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James Madison (1751-1836)

 

Given how judicial review is now the primary function of the Supreme Court, and their most famous power, it is hard to remember that this role is not established in the Constitution. When a case goes to the Supreme Court now, the questions are always: ‘Will x be declared unconstitutional?’. Most recently, the question swirled over Obamacare, same-sex marriage, the Voting Rights Act, and now recess appointments. Had Marbury not appealed his case, the Supreme Court may be a much less significant aspect of the federal government than it is today. Today, it is arguably the most important arm of the government. Congress can make law and the President enforces them, both acting within the boundaries of the Constitution, but the Supreme Court dictates what the Constitution means.

February 23rd 303: Great Persecution begins

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Emperor Diocletian (244 – 311)

On this day in 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian began the systematic persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. This became known as the ‘Great Persecution’ or the ‘Diocletianic Persecution’. It was this day that Diocletian ordered the total destruction of the new Christian church in Nicomedia, demanding the building and its scriptures to be burned and its treasures seized. The following day Diocletian issued an ‘Edict Against the Christians’; the persecution of Christians had begun.

 

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‘The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer’ by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Christians had been targeted throughout the history of the empire, but violence was at its fiercest between 303 and 313. The campaign did not end with Diocletian’s retirement in 305, as his successors continued what he had begun (though to varying degrees of intensity). The persecution saw the execution of Christians, the rescinding of their legal rights and the requirement that they embrace traditional Roman polytheistic religion. The persecution is generally considered to have ended with the 313 Edict of Milan issued by the converted Christian Emperor Constantine and Licinius.

 

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Emperor Constantine (272 – 337)

This is true religious persecution: the pressure to abandon one’s identity, the threat of violence, the violent destruction of culture. Whilst Christianity may be one of the dominant religions in the world now, we must not forget the sacrifices made by early Christians who would rather die than renounce their faith. When you hear conservative Christian commentators in the United States proclaiming that the ‘liberal establishment’ is waging a war on Christianity because one town didn’t have a nativity display, I would like to show them the Great Persecution of the fourth century. Maybe then they will realise what a true war on Christianity looks like.

February 22nd 1857: Robert Baden-Powell born

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Robert Baden-Powell (1857 – 1941)

On this day in 1857, the founder of the Scout movement Robert Baden-Powell was born in Paddington, London. Baden-Powell began his career as a lieutenant-general in the British Army; he fought in the Boer War and served in the colonial force in India and Africa. In 1907 he held the first Scout camp on Brownsea Island. After the success of this he published ‘Scouting for Boys’ a year later, which was billed as a ‘Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship’.

 

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Cover for the first part of ‘Scouting for Boys’ from 1908

 

 

The Scout Movement grew from there, establishing an equivalent for girls in 1910 and is now a worldwide phenomenon. The movement has reached countless countries, and in this age of modern technology, encourages an interest in the outside and nature. However it also promotes general good citizenship, as envisioned in Baden-Powell’s 1908 work. There have been some controversies surrounding the Scouts, with some finding many of its stances backward. The continued mention of God in the Scout oath and the discriminatory polices towards homosexuals of some of the associations in the movement have proved especially worrying. However, as long as they are able to update their positions to suit the modern era, Scouts and Guides are still great organisations for young people to get involved in. It’s a real back-to-basics approach to youth recreation, which some will find very rewarding.

February 21st 1848: Communist Manifesto published

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The original German Communist Manifesto – 1848

On this day in 1848 the Manifesto of the Communist Party (now known as The Communist Manifesto) was published. It was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, often considered the founding fathers of communism, on behalf of the London-based Communist League. Engels laid the foundations for the theory, and had been drafting a treatise on communism for some years until he collaborated with Marx who developed his work and proposed the leading principles.

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Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

The main ideas expressed in the manifesto are chiefly that capitalism and class struggle (between the proletariat and bourgeoisie) have been the chief concerns of society throughout history. Marx and Engels theorised that capitalism would be replaced by socialism and then communism, fulfilling their vision of global communism.

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Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895)

Their work has been incredibly influential; communism has become the ideological basis of several states including the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. With the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and the shaky communist credentials of China, Vietnam and the like, communism is declining in global significance. In the days of the Cold War, the world was divided into two camps: capitalist and communist. However when the Soviet Union fell so too did the concept of a global communist revolution; capitalism had emerged dominant.

February 20th 1872: Met opens

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The Met’s opening reception at 681 Fifth Avenue in 1872

On this day in 1872, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened in New York City. The museum was founded in 1870 by a group of American businessmen and artists who wanted to bring art to the American people, and was originally located in a building at 681 Fifth Avenue. The museum initially held a Roman stone sarcophagus and 174 paintings. As the museum expanded it had to move locations, finally settling on the eastern edge of Central Park. It now stands as one of the most renowned art museums in the world, housing over 2 million works.

 

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Exterior of 681 Fifth Avenue – the original museum

“We have something to point to as the Museum, something tangible and something good.”
– The Museum’s first President John Taylor Johnston describing his happiness the day the museum opened

February 19th 1942: Japanese internment

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Children in an internment camp

On this day in 1942 US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9066 which allowed the military to relocate Japanese-Americans to internment camps. This order gave the military the power to designate certain areas as exclusion zones and to force people of Japanese descent into these camps.

 

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Executive Order 9066

Japanese-Americans were considered a national threat due the attack on Pearl Harbour which prompted the US to join World War Two. Other groups were also detained, but it was Japanese-Americans who were mostly targeted, with 120,000 being held in camps. In Korematsu v. United States (1944), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the executive order.

 

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Boundary sign at a California camp

Those interned suffered great material and personal losses, with most losing a lot of property and some losing their lives to illness or the violence of sentries. The victims eventually received an official government apology in 1988 and reparations began in the 1990s. Reparations are an important step, but the pain and suffering inflicted by the wartime internment of Japanese communities continues to be felt in modern America. This year people across the country are commemorating the anniversary, not just due to its remaining impact on people, but also the stark reminders of how civil liberties come under threat in wartime. The Japanese experience during World War Two draws parallels to the experience of Arabs and Muslims now who can be detained under the National Defence Authorisation Act. This article explains, in better detail than I can, the modern implications of FDR’s 1942 action.