November 11th 1975: Australian Constitutional Crisis
On this day in 1975, Australian Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the government of Gough Whitlam. Kerr then appointed leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister and announced a general election to be held in early December. Whitlam’s Labor government had been plagued by scandals and political miscalculations, and the Dismissal rocked Australian politics. The Governor-General was using his constitutional power as the Queen’s representative in Australia to dismiss the Prime Minister which is equivalent of the Queen using her power to fire the British Prime Minister.
August 29th 1957: Thurmond filibuster ends
On this day in 1957 the Democratic Senator from South Carolina, Strom Thurmond, ended the longest filibuster in history. His desire to stop passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act led to a 24 hour, 18 minute long speech during which he read out state election laws, the Declaration of Independence and even a recipe book. He did not sit down for the whole filibuster, and cots were bought in to the Senate chamber for others. Despite his efforts, the bill passed; however it was ineffective in protecting African-American voting rights.
April 20th 1968: ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech
On this day in 1968, British politician Enoch Powell made his controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech at a Conservative Association meeting in Birmingham. Powell was the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West. The speech was vehemently anti-immigration with its ideas that immigrants were ‘ruining’ Britain and many refused to integrate, thus fostering racial and religious tensions and leading to violence. The speech was very controversial, with some supporting his comments as ‘brave’ and many condemning it as racist. It led to Powell’s dismissal from the Shadow Cabinet by Conservative leader Edward Heath.
“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’”
December 29th 1986: Harold Macmillan dies
On this day in 1986 the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan died aged 92. Macmillan became Conservative Prime Minister in 1957, replacing Anthony Eden who had been discredited by the Suez Crisis. Responding to the Crisis, and its implications for the future of the British Empire, Macmillan made a famous speech about the “wind of change” in South Africa and led the decolonisation of Sub-Saharan Africa. His administration was latterly rocked with scandals such as the Profumo affair. He resigned as Prime Minister in 1963.
November 29th 1890: Meiji Constitution goes into effect
On this day in 1890, the Meiji Constitution officially came into effect in Japan. The Constitution was drafted following the end of samurai rule and the restoration of the Emperor in the 1868 Meiji Restoration. The Constitution called for the establishment of a legislative body, thus when the Constitution went into effect, the first parliamentary Diet convened. The Constitution limited executive power, but gave the Emperor all power over the military, which allowed for Japan’s subsequent imperial expansion. After Japan surrendered to the Allies at the end of World War Two, the Meiji Constitution was suspended. It was later replaced with the Constitution of Japan which provided for a liberal democracy.
September 8th 1974: Ford pardons Nixon
On this day in 1974, US President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed during his presidency. This came after Nixon’s resignation over his administration’s involvement in illegal activities, including wiretapping, in the Watergate scandal. Ford, Nixon’s Vice-President, became President on August 9th. He pardoned Nixon in order to help the nation move on from the shameful events of Watergate, but the decision was controversial as many wanted Nixon to be made accountable. Ford was replaced by Jimmy Carter in 1977, and has the distinction of never being elected as either Vice-President or President.
40 years ago - June 17th 1972: Watergate break-in
On this day in 1972, 40 years ago, five White House operatives were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington DC. The men were aiming to wiretap the Democrats in preparation for the 1972 presidential election. The incident was the first in a series of revelations which revealed illegal activities of President Richard Nixon’s administration and led to his resignation in 1974. It was discovered the burglars had received money that had been donated to Nixon’s re-election campaign. The administration tried to cover-up its involvement in the 1972 incident. It was later discovered Nixon taped his conversations in the Oval Office and the Supreme Court ordered he hand the tapes over, which implicated the President in the cover-up and led to his resignation to avoid impeachment. Watergate is considered one of the greatest political scandals in history.
October 28th 1704: John Locke dies
On this day in 1704, the English philosopher John Locke died aged 72. Locke is notable for his political writings, which have led to him being considered the father of ‘classical liberalism’. Locke’s work was greatly influential, and was widely read amongst the revolutionary leaders of the American Revolution. Some of Locke’s major writings include ‘Two Treatises of Government’ and ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding’.
May 7th 1974: Willy Brandt resigns
On this day in 1974 Willy Brandt resigned as Chancellor of Germany. Brandt was a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and became chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1969. As chancellor Brandt pursued a ‘new policy towards the east’ (Ostpolitik) and aimed for reconciliation between West Germany and the Soviet bloc, especially East Germany. He resigned after it was revealed that one of his closest aides, Günter Guillaume, was an agent of the East German secret police (the Stasi).
February 10th 1755: Montesquieu dies
On this day in 1755 the famous French political thinker of the Enlightenment, Montesquieu, died aged 66 in Paris. He was born to a noble family in 1689. Montesquieu is best known for his theory of the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary in a government. His thinking was implemented in many national constitutions, most notably the American. He died of a high fever in 1755 and was buried in the Église Saint-Sulpice, Paris.
December 28th 1832: John C. Calhoun resigns
On this day in 1832, John C. Calhoun became the first Vice President of the United States to resign from office. He had served four years as Vice President under John Quincy Adams and then again under Adams’s successor Andrew Jackson. However, Calhoun split with Jackson on many issues and their feud became so great that Calhoun resigned in 1832 and ran for the Senate. Known for his pro-slavery views, Calhoun was a hero to the future secessionists in the American Civil War which began 11 years after his death in 1850.
October 10th 1973: Agnew resigns
On this day in 1973 the Vice President of the United States Spiro Agnew resigned. Agnew served under President Richard Nixon until he was formally charged with bribery and income tax evasion. He was replaced by Gerald Ford, who later became President upon Nixon’s resignation over the Watergate scandal. Thus Ford is the only American President to have not been elected either Vice-President or President.
August 9th 1974: Nixon resigns
On this day in 1974 at noon, Richard M. Nixon became the first and only President of the United States to resign from office. He was replaced by his Vice-President, Gerald Ford. Nixon resigned due to the revelations of the Watergate scandal that his administration had been involved in illegal activities. These included breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex and wiretapping. He long denied direct knowledge, but after the Supreme Court forced him to hand over the tapes of his conversations in the Oval Office, Nixon’s involvement was clear. He resigned rather than face impeachment and almost certain removal by Congress. He was later pardoned for his crimes by Ford, who hoped his decision would help America heal and move on.