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.
May 26th 1868: President Johnson acquitted
On this day in 1868 President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial ended, finding him not guilty by one vote. Johnson became President in 1865 after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and oversaw the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. The unpopular President was impeached in February by the House of Representatives, with the main charge being that he violated the Tenure of Office Act by removing Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War. Johnson was then put on trial in the Senate, with Chief Justice Salmon Chase presiding, however he was found not guilty. He was one vote short of conviction and thus removal from office. Whilst Congress gave specific reasons for the impeachment, many still consider the affair mostly political. Johnson and Bill Clinton in 1998 are the only Presidents to have been impeached.
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.
May 31st 2005: Mark Felt revealed as Deep Throat
On this day in 2005, Vanity Fair revealed the identity of the secret informant on the Watergate scandal as former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt. In the early 1970s, Felt provided Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward with information regarding President Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal, which led to the President’s resignation in 1974. There had been speculation both at the time and later that Felt was the leak, but it was not officially announced until May 31st 2005. Vanity Fair’s article was written by Felt’s lawyer and after its release, his identity was confirmed by the Post’s reporters from the time. Felt’s family had convinced him to reveal himself for the potential book deals and money it would raise them. Felt died on December 18th 2008.
“I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat.”
- Mark Felt in Vanity Fair, 2005
200 years ago - May 11th 1812: Spencer Perceval assassinated
On this day in 1812, 200 years ago today, Spencer Perceval became the first and only British Prime Minister to be assassinated when he was shot by John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons. Perceval became Tory Prime Minister in 1809 (replacing the Duke of Portland) and his administration had to deal with economic depression, Luddism and the ‘madness’ of King George III. He had initially been considered a weak Prime Minister, but things had been looking up for his administration until he was shot by Bellingham who was a merchant with a grievance against the government for supposedly not freeing him when he was imprisoned in Russia. Bellingham was hanged on 18th May.
“I am murdered…I am murdered”
- Perceval’s last words