March 4, 1798 – Secretary of State Timothy Pickering Receives Three Dispatches Known as the XYZ Papers

From 1778 to 1783, France and Britain were at war. Each country exerted pressure on the U.S. to join the war on its side. President Washington urged the country to avoid “entangling alliances.” But there was no agreement in the country; as historian Joel Richard Paul explains in his book Without Precedent:

Supporters of neutrality coalesced into the Federalist Party [led by Washington], and critics of the administration formed the Republican Party, led by Jefferson.”

In 1795 John Jay negotiated a [very unpopular] treaty with Britain, and in 1797 the new President John Adams sent a three-man commission overseas to negotiate a treaty with France. He chose the Republican Elbridge Gerry, and Federalists Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Marshall. The commissioners thought it would not take long. However, they did not count on the obstructionism of the French minister of foreign affairs, Marquis de Talleyrand.

What Talleyrand was most interested in from the Americans was money. Most notably, he wanted America to “lend” France more than four hundred million in 2018 dollars; and to pay a bribe of around 6 million in today’s dollars to Talleyrand himself.

Portrait of Talleyrand by Ary Scheffer

The commissioners had no authority to advance or promise any money to France even if they wanted to, which they did not. Or at least, the two Federalists did not. As Paul writes, the French were incredulous that the Americans thought they could obtain anything without forking over a lot of money, and Pinckney and Marshall insisted they would not lend money “under the lash & coercion of France.” The negotiations stalled, and in the meantime, French ships continued to assault U.S. merchant vessels. Moreover, the French threatened to close French ports to American ships.

Between the weather and the British blockade, it took months for dispatches from the commissioners to reach the President back in Philadelphia. When President Adams finally did hear what was going on, he was incensed. He asked Congress to appropriate funds to prepare for war. Congress demanded to know what was in the dispatches, and Secretary of State Timothy Pickering released them, but first replaced the names of Talleyrand’s agents with the letters “X,” “Y,” and “Z.” Thus the diplomatic episode became known as “The XYZ Affair.”

Timothy Pickering, 3rd United States Secretary of State

The documents “exploded any myth of France’s benign attitude or of the American commissioners’ culpability,” (Paul, p. 174).

Vice President Thomas Jefferson, an ardent supporter of France, plotted to undermine President Adams’ policies and the building momentum to go to war against France. Paul writes:

Just as Pickering was distributing the XYZ papers, Jefferson and his lieutenants were scrambling to counter the Federalists’ arguments. Jefferson went so far as to send copies of Marshall’s secret diplomatic instructions to his agents, hoping that this would demonstrate that the Federalists had sabotaged negotiations from the outset. This was an extraordinary breach of government secrecy that substantially undermined U.S. diplomacy with France. (p. 174)”

But the tide of public opinion was turning, and Congressional Republicans distanced themselves from France lest they face negative electoral repercussions.

The country was now backing Adams for going to war against France. Congress appropriated funds to purchase armed ships and approved a trade embargo against France. Thus began the “Quasi-War,” against France, the first undeclared war in American history, which lasted for the next two years.

September 6, 1666 – End of the the Great Fire of London

The late 17th Century was not a good time for London. In 1665 it had an outbreak fo Bubonic Plague in which thousands died. And the next year, on September 2, a fire broke out that destroyed much of London.

The fire started at the house of the king’s baker in Pudding Lane near London Bridge. The summer had been hot and dry, and the fire quickly spread in the strong east wind, jumping from house to house.

The London Fire Brigade website notes:

Back in the 1660s, people were not as aware of the dangers of fire as they are today. Buildings were made of timber – covered in a flammable substance called pitch, roofed with thatch – and tightly packed together with little regard for planning. About 350,000 people lived in London just before the Great Fire, it was one of the largest cities in Europe. . . . Lots of animals lived London too – there were no cars, buses or lorries back then – so as well as houses, the city was full of sheds and yards packed high with flammable hay and straw.

Following a long, dry summer the city was suffering a drought. Water was scarce and the wooden houses had dried out, making them easier to burn… it was a recipe for disaster.”

By September 4th, half of London was in flames. C.N. Trueman on “The History Learning Site” reports that while in 1665, King Charles II had fled London during the plague, when the fire broke out he stayed on and even took charge of the operation to save the city.

Ludgate in flames, with St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance (square tower without the spire) now catching flames. Oil painting by anonymous artist, ca. 1670.

King Charles’ plan was to create firebreaks by demolition, which was the main firefighting technique of the time. By the time large-scale demolitions were ordered on Sunday night, the wind had already fanned the bakery fire into a firestorm that defeated such measures.

The UK History of England Magazine notes:

As a last resort gunpowder was used to blow up houses that lay in the path of the fire, and so create an even bigger fire-break, but the sound of the explosions started rumours that a French invasion was taking place…. even more panic!!”

St. Paul’s Cathedral also was caught in the flames, with lead on the roof melting into the streets. The great cathedral collapsed, but the Tower of London escaped the inferno. Eventually the fire was brought under control, and by September 6th had been extinguished altogether.

St Paul’s Cathedral as it looked in 1658 before the fire.

The fire also did not reach the aristocratic district of Westminster, Charles II’s Palace of Whitehall, and most of the suburban slums. It did consume some 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants. Amazingly, however, only six people were reported to have died.

The total area affected by the fire

But a history blogger plausibly argues:

Many historians today dispute that the death toll could have been this low, saying that smoke inhalation must have killed many, not to mention the sick, old, very young, or otherwise infirm who surely would have been unable to escape such a raging fire. If the fires got to that high a temperature that it melted steel, it would probably have also melted bones of those who died, and even small fragments that survived would have largely gone unnoticed in amongst the extensive rubble. This again would mean that many who died would have gone unrecorded – particularly if they were poor and unknown to begin with. Even if so few died in the actual fire, there is also the point that many died in the aftermath – with food so scarce, and so many people homeless and destitute, many died from hunger or exposure during the winter that followed.”

On the other hand, there was “good” news: as the online UK History of England Magazine site points out, the fire helped to kill of some of the black rats and fleas that carried the plague bacillus.

Sir Christopher Wren was given the task of re-building London, and his masterpiece St. Paul’s Cathedral was started in 1675 and completed in 1711. Wren also rebuilt 52 of the City churches.

Sir Christopher Wren’s rebuilt St. Paul’s Cathedral

August 16, 1845 – Potato Blight Reported in Ireland; Onset of Great Famine of Ireland

On this day in history, “The Gardener’s Chronicle and Horticultural Gazette” reported “a blight of unusual character” on the Isle of Wight. A week later, it reported that “A fearful malady has broken out among the potato crop … In Belgium the fields are said to be completely desolated. … As for cure for this distemper, there is none.” These reports were extensively covered in Irish newspapers. By September 13, “The Gardeners’ Chronicle” announced, “ We stop the Press with very great regret to announce that the potato Murrain [infectious disease] has unequivocally declared itself in Ireland.”

“The Great Famine of Ireland” is the name used for the period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland between 1845 and 1852. It is also known as the Irish Potato Famine, because so many in Ireland relied on the potato for much of their nutrition, and during that time period potato blight ravaged the potato crops.

The BBC reported:

Altogether, about a million people in Ireland are reliably estimated to have died of starvation and epidemic disease between 1846 and 1851, and some two million emigrated in a period of a little more than a decade (1845-55). Comparison with other modern and contemporary famines establishes beyond any doubt that the Irish famine of the late 1840s, which killed nearly one-eighth of the entire population, was proportionally much more destructive of human life than the vast majority of famines in modern times.”

Ironically, during this same time period, Ireland had sufficient food to alleviate the starvation, but the food was controlled by the Anglo landlords, all earmarked for export, and protected by troops send from England. As Timothy Egan, author of Immortal Irishman, told NPR:

There was plenty of food on the island while a million people died. And was grain, there was beef, corn wheat, oats, barley – food from Irish land and Irish labor, but it didn’t go into Irish mouths.”

Importantly, he added:

…there are all these documents now that have come out and shown there was a British policy called extermination. They thought the Irish had breeded too fast, and this was nature’s way – in some cases they said God’s way – of culling the Irish.”

Sir Charles Trevelyan was the inflexible nobleman chiefly responsible for administering Irish relief policy throughout the famine years.

He devised “a relief policy” which imposed stringent tests on destitution and relied heavily the requirement of hard labor in exchange for an inadequate amount of food. Nonetheless, many signed up for it because they had no choice but to starve.

The resulting disease, deaths, and emigration all seemed fitting to Trevelyan.

Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan

Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan

Trevelyan wrote:

The greatest evil we have to face is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the Irish people.”

A network of state-funded food kitchens mandated by legislation in February 1847 was not in full operation until June of that year. These sites distributed maize and rice porridge to the destitute. In some western districts more than three quarters of the population were fed. But when the potato crop did not fail in the summer of 1847, the government promptly declared the famine was over. By the end of September it had closed all its soup kitchens.

A young girl standing outside a ‘scalp’ – a hole dug in the earth by the destitute to create shelter.

In an 1848 article in the Edinburgh Review – at the height of the famine – Trevelyan applauded the fact that starvation encouraged migration and supported the view that God was punishing the Irish Catholics for their superstitious ways and adherence to ‘popery’.

The BBC relates that in Trevelyan’s 1848 book The Irish Crisis,:

Trevelyan described the famine as ‘a direct stroke of an all-wise and all-merciful Providence’, one which laid bare ‘the deep and inveterate root of social evil’. The famine, he declared, was ‘the sharp but effectual remedy by which the cure is likely to be effected… God grant that the generation to which this great opportunity has been offered may rightly perform its part…’ This mentality of Trevelyan’s was influential in persuading the government to do nothing to restrain mass evictions – and this had the obvious effect of radically restructuring Irish rural society along the lines of the capitalistic model ardently preferred by British policy-makers.”

Trevelyan was actually knighted by Queen Victoria for his “handling” of the famine.

December 26, 1791 – The Constitutional Act of Great Britain Divides Up the Province of Quebec

New France was the area colonized by France in North America, beginning with the exploration of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence by Jacques Cartier in 1534 and ending with the cession of New France to Great Britain and Spain in 1763 under the Treaty of Paris. The treaty formally ended the Seven Years’ War, known as the French and Indian War in the North America.

By Britain’s Royal Proclamation of 1763, Canada (part of New France) was renamed the Province of Quebec. The new British province extended from the coast of Labrador on the Atlantic Ocean, southwest through the Saint Lawrence River Valley to the Great Lakes and beyond to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Portions of its southwest (south of the Great Lakes) were later ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris (1783) at the conclusion of the American Revolution although the British maintained a military presence there until 1796. In 1791, the territory north of the Great Lakes was divided into Lower Canada and Upper Canada by an Act of the British Parliament.

The Act came into effect on on this date in history, having received royal assent the preceding June. It enshrined constitutional changes that were part of the reorganization of British North America that took place under the pressure of thousands of Loyalists seeking refuge after the American Revolution.

By 1776, some 100,000 loyalists had already fled into exile.  The British government offered them asylum in Canada and was offering financial compensation.

According to a Canadian history website:

[The] influx of English speaking Loyalists increased tensions between Anglophones and francophone Canadians. . . . The French feared that the Anglophones would overpower them and take away from the privileges they’d obtained in the Quebec Act, whereas the Loyalists wanted government reform to be ruled as British citizens.”

The Act separated Canada into two different sections: Upper and Lower Canada. Anglophones and loyalists resided in Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) and francophone Canadians lived in Lower Canada (present-day Quebec). Both areas developed different systems of governance, and both sides battled for political dominance.

An important area of contention was also a provision of the Act that set aside one seventh of all land in Upper Canada for [Protestant] “Clergy Reserves.”
 
Although various Protestant denominations made claims to the land, the Church of England tended to view the allocation as their own, creating conflict.

Another cause of dissension was the provision that voting was open to owners of land or rental property of a certain monetary value. In Lower Canada, inheritance rights were determined under French Law, which allowed women to receive half of her husband’s property after his death. Thus women in Lower Canada had the right to vote. Women in Upper Canada, however, were unable to vote because English Common Law did not grant them property.

Eventually, these tensions boiled over into The Rebellions of 1837-1838, armed uprisings in both Lower and Upper Canada. Each rebellion called for a more accountable government in which the Executive (today called the Cabinet) would be drawn from the elected majority of the Assembly, rather than appointed.

Battle of St. Eustache during the Rebellions

John George Lampton, known as Lord Durham, was sent to British North America in 1838 to assess the reasons for the Rebellions.

He spent five months in the country and produced the Durham Report which was used to draft the Act of Union of 1840. Durham suggested a political union of the British North American colonies which would give the English a majority and result in the assimilation of the French, which he considered to be desirable, given what he saw as the inferiority of the French culture.

British reaction to Durham’s Report was mixed. The colonial secretary, Lord John Russell, was opposed to giving up British parliamentary supremacy by allowing the colony to have representative government. He agreed with the proposal for union, though, and a bill to unite Upper and Lower Canada became law on July 23, 1840, just five days before Durham died. This was the Act of Union.

The British North America Act, 1840, commonly known as the Act of Union 1840, was enacted in July 1840 and proclaimed February 10, 1841 in Montréal. It abolished the legislatures of Lower Canada and Upper Canada and established a new political entity, the Province of Canada to replace them.

Province of Canada 1840. The large area marked “Rupert’s Land” was a territory operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company for 200 years from 1670 to 1870.

The British North America Act 1867 was the act that established the Dominion of Canada. As the various colonies of Canada debated uniting under a British flag, the United States did not stand by idly. As “The Globe and Mail” reports in a history of the 1867 Act:

Pockets of opposition existed in the [northern states and in the] U.S. House of Representatives as well. The member from New York, Henry Raymond, viewed the proposed confederation as a threat to Americans, arguing that ‘a powerful monarchy, under the protection and with the support of a foreign nation, cannot be regarded as otherwise than hostile to the peace and menacing to the safety of the Republic.’ Nathaniel Banks (Massachusetts), chair of the foreign affairs committee, also wanted to ensure that all of the territory of North America fell under the Stars and Stripes. To this end, he introduced a bill into the House in July, 1866, to annex the British colonies – all of their land and resources – and in exchange provide them with approximately $86-million. The bill also proposed merging Nova Scotia with Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland with Quebec.”

However, for better or worse, Congress was mainly occupied with Reconstruction after the Civil War.

On Feb. 12, 1867, the Earl of Carnarvon, secretary of state for the colonies, introduced “A Bill for the Union of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick” into the House of Lords. The Act was passed on March 29, 1867. The “Globe and Mail” recounts:

The Dominion of Canada came into effect a few months later, on July 1, 1867, and celebrations took place in all the major cities.”

There was, notably, both celebrating and mourning in Canada, and one group entirely omitted. As “The Globe and Mail” notes:

Indigenous peoples were not included in the discussions leading up to the British North America Act, 1867, nor were they part of the celebrations of its adoption. They were effectively invisible to the political leaders of British North America.”

August 28, 1833 – Slavery Abolition Act of British Parliament Given Royal Assent

The “Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the Industry of the manumitted Slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves” was given assent by the British Royalty on this day in history, and came into force the following August 1, 1834.

By this act, more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa as well as a small number in Canada were freed. The Act specifically excluded, however, territories in the possession of the East India Company, or the Islands of Ceylon [Sri Lanka] and Saint Helena.

A bronze sculpture representing an African couple and their child in Rock Hall Freedom Village in Barbados. CreditGina Francesca for The New York Times

Because the act made Canada a free territory, thousands of fugitive American slaves headed for Canada. A PBS online history reports that some thirty thousand (a conservative estimate) reached Canada between 1800 and 1860.

In 1998, the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was repealed. Slavery was still illegal of course but the prohibition was incorporated into the Human Rights Act of 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights both of which prohibit the holding of any person as a slave.

You can read the full text of the 1833 act here.

June 23, 2016 – Brexit: British People Vote to Leave the European Union

Brexit is a portmanteau of “British” and “exit”. In popular usage, it was derived by analogy from Grexit, referring to a hypothetical withdrawal of Greece from the eurozone (and possibly also the European Union, or EU).

In a referendum on June 23, 2016, 51.9% of the participating UK electorate voted to leave the EU; the turnout was 72.2%. England voted for Brexit, by 53.4% to 46.6%. Wales also voted for Brexit, with Leave getting 52.5% of the vote and Remain 47.5%. Scotland and Northern Ireland both backed staying in the EU. Scotland backed Remain by 62% to 38%, while 55.8% in Northern Ireland voted Remain and 44.2% Leave.

Results by region:
Blue: Leave
Gold: Remain

As Sam Knight in “The New Yorker Magazine” observed:

….the E.U., a vast supranational project …. had become a metaphor for a remote and unfair system for organizing people’s lives. But the decision presented a great democratic problem. Staying in the E.U. could mean only one thing, but there were any number of ways to leave. No country has ever left the E.U., and the states on its borders have a spectrum of relationships with the bloc.”

Britain, Europe’s financial center, joined the European Economic Community, as it was then known, in 1973. Since then, Britain imported around nineteen thousand European laws and regulations. Although populists called for the U.K. to “take back control,” the racial card of immigration played a large role.

In addition, a great deal of misinformation and false claims debunked here was disseminated to the electorate prior to the election, including:

1. ‘The money saved from leaving the EU will result in the NHS getting £350m a week’
2. ‘A free-trade deal with the EU will be ‘the easiest thing in human history’
3. ‘Two thirds of British jobs in manufacturing are dependent on demand from Europe’
4. ‘Turkey is going to join the EU and millions of people will flock to the UK’
5. ‘Brexit will lead to Scotland renewing calls for independence’
6. ‘Brexit does not mean the UK will leave the single market ‘

Moreover, a series of allegations regarding Russian influence over the vote were investigated, and some called for a new referendum. The London Observer reported that it reviewed documents suggesting there were multiple meetings between the leaders of the Leave.EU movement and high-ranking Russian officials between November 2015 and 2017, two of which were said to have been held the week that Leave.EU launched its official campaign. In addition, there are suggestions Russian money used as bribes to the Leave.EU leadership was involved.

An article from Britain on the psychology of those who accepted the lies about Brexit notes:

. . . many of those who were convinced to vote to leave EU did so because they want to believe that £350 million would be taken from our payments to that blood-sucking ‘European’ bureaucracy, and returned to feed our own ‘British’ NHS.They were also told that their vote would enable them to ‘Take Back Control’ —- apparently a slogan introduced to the campaign by hypnotist and self-help author Paul McKenna, who uses such techniques when hypnotising clients and in his best-selling books such I Can Make You Thin or I Can Make You Rich. People lapped up the sales pitches.”

David Cameron, the Conservative party Prime Minister who had called the referendum, resigned immediately. Theresa May, also a member of the Conservative Party, became the new Prime Minister twenty days after the British people voted to leave the European Union. Theresa May was against Brexit during the referendum campaign but afterward claimed she supported it because, she says, it was what the British people wanted (or in any event, thought they wanted).

David Cameron and Theresa May

In the U.K. there was chaos. As “The New Yorker” Magazine reported:

As Prime Minister, May immediately established two new government departments: Dexeu, to manage the Brexit process; and the Department of International Trade, to explore economic opportunities outside the E.U. Dexeu was given offices at 9 Downing Street, the former premises of the court of the Privy Council. In their first weeks, civil servants worked in the docks and on the benches of the old courtroom as they grappled with the scale of Brexit. ‘People were saying, ‘How does the U.K. fishing industry work? How does the U.K. automotive industry work?’ the senior official told me. ‘You were getting papers saying, ‘There are lots of fish in English waters.’ Literally, they were at the most basic level.’”

Withdrawal from the European Union is governed by Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. Under the Article 50 invocation procedure, a member notifies the European Council, whereupon the EU is required to negotiate and conclude an agreement with [the leaving] State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the [European] Union. The negotiation period is limited to two years unless extended, after which the treaties cease to apply.

The UK Supreme Court ruled in January 2017 that the government needed parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50. Subsequently, the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted, on February 1, 2017, for a government bill authorizing the prime minister to invoke Article 50, and the bill passed into law as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017. Theresa May then signed a letter invoking Article 50 on 28 March 2017, which was delivered on March 29 to the European Council President. The UK stopped being a member of the European Union (EU) on January 31, 2020.

As Euronews reported:

No sooner had negotiations begun on the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU, than the coronavirus pandemic effectively put a halt to proceedings. . . . Video connections are not seen by critics as a satisfactory substitute for face-to-face meetings, given the detail involved and the dozens of negotiators on each side.

Recent months have seen energies on both sides distracted by the pandemic, but very soon decisions will need to be taken on post-Brexit ties.”

You can keep up with Brexit-related news as it unfolds at the UK Telegraph Brexit site, here. Details of Brexit are still being hammered out for every aspect of life, such as revealed in this May 29, 2020 article:

The European Union will reject British demands for stronger legal protection for UK regional products such as Stilton cheese and Scottish whisky after the end of the Brexit transition period in trade negotiations next week.

The UK agreed to keep EU protections for delicacies like champagne and Parma ham in place and in perpetuity in negotiations over the Withdrawal Agreement – but failed to secure the same guarantees for British products in the EU.

While EU product protection is now enshrined in an international legally binding treaty, British products will only be protected under EU law if they remain on the EU’s register of Geographical Indications (GIs).”

You can learn more details about Brexit in a very informative FAQ from the BBC, here. There is also the latest news on Brexit from the New York Times as of May, 2021, here.

June 15, 1846 – Oregon Treaty is Signed by the U.S. and Great Britain

The Oregon Treaty, between the United Kingdom and the United States, was signed on this day in history during the presidency of James K. Polk. The treaty brought an end to the Oregon boundary dispute by settling competing American and British claims to the Oregon Country; the area had been jointly occupied by both Britain and the U.S. since the Treaty of 1818.

The Treaty of 1818 had set the boundary between the United States and British North America along the 49th parallel of north latitude from Minnesota to the “Stony Mountains” (now known as the Rocky Mountains). The region west of those mountains was known to the Americans as the Oregon Country and to the British as the Columbia Department or Columbia District of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The treaty provided for joint control of that land for ten years. Citizens in both countries could claim land and both countries were guaranteed free navigation throughout.

In 1827 Washington and London agreed to postpone the issue indefinitely subject to one year’s notice by either party. An interim treaty, negotiated by British diplomat Lord Ashburton and Secretary of State Daniel Webster and called the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, partially delineated the northeastern U.S.-Canada border, but left the border of the Oregon Territory unsettled. Border skirmishes continued, as shared control grew more contentious.

Through tough negotiation and the threat to go to war over the issue, Polk was able to settle on a boundary of 49 degrees north, ceding to Britain what is now British Columbia, but getting for the U.S. all of what is now Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming.

The Senate ratified the treaty by a vote of 41-14 on June 18, 1846. A later controversy over the precise boundaries in the Juan de Fuca Strait was resolved by international arbitration in favor of the United States.

The U.S. portion of the region was organized as Oregon Territory on August 15, 1848, with Washington Territory being formed from it in 1853.

February 6, 1918 – British Parliament “Representation of People Act” Granting Vote to (Some) Women Over Age 30 Receives Royal Assent

The British Parliament passed successive acts to increase the numbers of men allowed to vote. Still, before 1914, as the Oxford Human Rights Hub reports, “approximately 40% of men could not vote before 1914 because of residential and property requirements. This included the poorest in society; soldiers, sailors and students who moved frequently; and men such as adult sons living in their parents’ houses.”

With the onset of World War I, a consensus emerged that men fighting the war both on the front lines and in the factories deserved the vote. But women were supporting the war too, as well as campaigning for suffrage.

British activists for women’s suffrage Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

The UK Parliament, in an informational brochure on this act, states that when Conservative MPS lobbied for a “soldier’s vote,” Liberal and Labour politicians argued it had to be extended to other workers, and it was also necessary to consider women.

A cross-party conference was convened to consider electoral reform. The Chair of the Conference, Speaker James Lowther, delayed discussion of women’s suffrage in order to obtain agreement on issues related to men. Then, when three anti-suffragist members left the conference in December 1916, Lowther replaced them with pro-suffragists. The matter of voting for women was finally discussed on January 10th and 11th, 1917.

James William Lowther MP

Liberal MP Willoughby Dickinson, who served on the Conference and was a supporter of women’s suffrage, proposed that the vote should go to “occupiers or wives of occupiers.” This carried 9 to 8, and thus the suffrage clause went forward.

Willoughby H. Dickinson MP, 1906, House of Commons Library

The Conference therefore recommended that the vote be given to woman who were on the local government register, or whose husbands were, provided they had reached a specified age “of which 30 and 35 received most favour.”

Approximately 8.4 million women became enfranchised by this act, which received Royal Assent on February 6, 1918.

December 29, 1675 – King Charles II of England Bans Coffee Houses

According to PBS:

The word “coffee” has roots in several languages. In Yemen it earned the name qahwah, which was originally a romantic term for wine. It later became the Turkish kahveh, then Dutch koffie and finally coffee in English.

Ripe Coffee Berries

The modern version of roasted coffee is said to have originated in Arabia. NPR relates:

. . . tradition says that not a single coffee plant existed outside of Arabia or Africa until the 1600s, when Baba Budan, an Indian pilgrim, left Mecca with fertile beans fastened to a strap across his abdomen. Baba’s beans resulted in a new and competitive European coffee trade.”

It caught on fast.

According to Gail Schumann, author of the book Plant Diseases: Their Biology and Social Impact, it was coffee, not tea, that was the most popular drink in England in the mid-1600s. The Dutch imported the coffee from colonial plantations in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Java, and Sumatra. The French began growing coffee in the Caribbean, followed by the Spanish in Central America and the Portuguese in Brazil. European coffee houses sprang up in Italy and later France, where they reached a new level of popularity.

Pasqua Rosée opened the first coffeehouse in London in 1652. Open Culture has an image of Rosée’s original handbill, in which he “advertised both the therapeutic and prophylactic effects of his wares on digestion, headaches, rheumatism, consumption, cough, dropsy, gout, scurvy, and miscarriages.”

The coffeehouse was so successful that as the National Geographic History magazine reports (March/April 2018), within a year it was selling more than 600 coffees a day. Needless to say, competitors began to appear across the city. Coffee shops were approved of by the puritanical Commonwealth that was established after the beheading of King Charles I. National Geographic reports:

Patrons of London’s coffee shops typically sat at long wooden tables with shared candles, pipes, and newspapers. . . men of different social classes could meet and discuss the issues of the day – including politics.”

All this talking, however, worried King Charlies II when the monarchy was restored in 1660. By that time there were as many as 63 coffeehouses in London. He was particularly concerned with the spread of what we would call today “fake news.”

The earliest known image of a London coffeehouse, from 1674

In 1672, the King asked the judiciary for a written opinion on how lawfully to proceed against the coffeehouses, but reportedly the judges could not come up with an easy solution. The result, as British Columbia’s Herb Museum reports, was the King’s first royal proclamation on the matter, issued on June 12, 1672, to “Restrain the Spreading of False news, and Licentious Talking of Matters of State and, Government.” The proclamation maintained that “bold and Licentious Discourses” had grown to an extent that men “assumed to themselves a liberty, not only in Coffee-houses, but in other Places and Meetings, both publick and private, to censure and defame the proceedings of State, by speaking evil of things they understand not, and endeavouring to create and nourish an universal Jealousie and Dissatisfaction in the minds of all his Majesties good subjects.”

Apparently this proclamation was ineffective, as claimed by an anonymous invective of the time. This 1673 tract complained that in the places that sell “Coffe, Tea and Chocoletta,” people “discourse with all Companies that come in, of State-matters, talking of news, and broaching of lyes, arraigning the judgements and discretions of their Governors, censuring all their Councels, and insinuating into the people a prejudice against them. . . . (Eighteenth-Century Coffee-House Culture, vol 1 “ by Markman Ellis)

On May 2, 1674 another Proclamation with the same title promised to punish all ‘Spreaders of false news, or promoters of any Malicious Calumnies against the State’ by considering them to be ‘Seditiously inclined’.”

And on this day in history, the King, still fearing the coffeehouses were hotbeds for sedition and plots, tried again with yet another proclamation.

A number of similar historical signs marking the sites of old coffee houses dot London today

The Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee-Houses declared:

Whereas it is most apparent, that the Multitude of Coffee-Houses of late years set up and kept within this Kingdom . . . have produced very evil and dangerous effects; as well for that many Tradesmen and others, do therein mis-spend much of their time, which might and probably would otherwise be imployed in and about their Lawful Callings and Affairs; but also, for that in such Houses, and by occasion of the meetings of such persons therein, diverse False, Malitious and Scandalous Reports are devised and spread abroad, to the Defamation of His Majesties Government, and to the Disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm; His Majesty hath thought it fit and necessary, That the said Coffee-houses be (for the future) Put down and Suppressed, and doth (with the Advice of His Privy Council) by this His Royal Proclamation, Strictly Charge and Command all manner of persons, That they or any of them do not presume from and after the Tenth Day of January next ensuing, to keep any Publick Coffee-house, or to Utter or sell by retail, in his, her or their house or houses (to be spent or consumed within the same) any Coffee, Chocolet, Sherbett or Tea, as they will answer the contrary at their utmost perils.”

King Charles II of England

The proclamation was published in full in The London Gazette the next day.

There was a large public outcry, with the matter debated in the coffeehouses, of course. The resistance to the new order was so strong the King backtracked after less than two weeks. It was abolished on January 8, 1676.

Artist Adam Dant’s Map Of The Coffee Houses of 17th and 18th Century London.

Dr Matthew Green, an Oxford historian, writes:

By the dawn of the eighteenth century, contemporaries were counting between 1,000 and 8,000 coffeehouses in the capital even if a street survey conducted in 1734 (which excluded unlicensed premises) counted only 551. Even so, Europe had never seen anything like it. Protestant Amsterdam, a rival hub of international trade, could only muster 32 coffeehouses by 1700 and the cluster of coffeehouses in St Mark’s Square in Venice were forbidden from seating more than five customers (presumably to stifle the coalescence of public opinion) whereas North’s, in Cheapside, could happily seat 90 people.”

So what happened? Why is England today known for tea?

The answer is Coffee Rust Fungus, or Hemileia vastatrix.

Hemileia Vastatrix on Coffee Leaves

As Gail L. Schumann reports:

“When the coffee rust fungus, Hemileia vastatrix, reached Ceylon in 1875, nearly 400,000 acres (160,000 hectares) were covered with coffee trees. No effective chemical fungicides were available to protect the foliage, so the fungus was able to colonize the leaves until nearly all the trees were defoliated.”

The result was pretty much complete devastation of the coffee plants. While in 1870, Ceylon was exporting 100 million pounds of coffee per year, by 1889, production was down to 5 million pounds.

Meanwhile, in 1866, James Taylor, a recently arrived Scot, was selected to be in charge of the first sowing of tea seeds, on 19 acres of land. Between 1873 and 1880, the Ceylon Tea Museum tells us, production rose from just 23 pounds to 81.3 tons, and by 1890, to 22,899.8 tons. [To get an idea of how much tea that is, as many as 375 to 425 cups of tea can be prepared from one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of tea.] Four estates were purchased by the grocer Thomas J. Lipton. He came up with the idea of putting tea in packets instead of selling it loose from the chest. The Museum reports that Lipton’s 300 grocery shops throughout England soon could not keep up with the growing demand for his inexpensive product, and so Lipton teas became available in other stores around Britain.

Thomas J. Lipton enjoying a cup of tea

October 21, 1805 – Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic War of the Third Coalition

The Battle of Trafalgar was a naval engagement fought on this day in history during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1806).

The Napoleonic Wars had gone on for some time. France had built the strongest army in Europe, and controlled much of the land. Britain had a strong Royal Navy and used this to blockade France, preventing French ships from leaving their ports. The French leader Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to invade and conquer Britain, but desired naval support. This meant he had to sink the British navy first.

The Vice Admiral of the British Fleet and Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean was Lord Horatio Nelson. The British knew that France might try to attack them, and had placed ships outside the important French ports, like Toulon.

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson

The French navy managed to avoid Nelson’s fleet, and left Toulon during a storm, meeting up with a group of Spanish ships. Spain at the time was an ally of France. This small fleet first sailed to the West Indies, then returned across the Atlantic Ocean to the Spanish port of Cádiz. The British chased them both ways across the ocean.

On September 16, Napoleon gave orders for the French and Spanish ships at Cádiz to put to sea at the first favorable opportunity and head to Naples to reinforce his troops there. The French and Spanish differed on the wisdom of this plan, and they remained in Cádiz for over a month. This gave Nelson’s fleet plenty of time to catch up.

On this day in history, the British were about 21 miles to the northwest of Cape Trafalgar, with the Franco-Spanish fleet between the British and the Cape. At around 6 a.m., Nelson gave the order to prepare for battle.

Via BBC News

French Admiral Villeneuve, in command of thirty-three French and Spanish ships of the line, ordered his ships to turn around and return to Cádiz. The inexperienced crews had difficulty with the changing conditions, and it took nearly an hour and a half for Villeneuve’s order to be completed.

By 11 a.m. Nelson’s entire fleet was visible to Villeneuve, drawn up in two parallel columns. The two fleets would be within range of each other within an hour.

Nelson was outnumbered and outgunned, the enemy totalling nearly 30,000 men and 2,568 guns to his 17,000 men and 2,148 guns. The Franco-Spanish fleet also had six more ships of the line, and so could more readily combine their fire.

Nevertheless, the twenty-seven British ships of the line led by Admiral Lord Nelson aboard HMS Victory defeated Villeneuve decisively. The Franco-Spanish fleet lost twenty-two ships and the British lost none.

The victory confirmed Britain’s naval supremacy, with the battle’s fame now second only to Waterloo among the many clashes of the Napoleonic Wars.

It was also notable for Nelson’s departure from the prevailing tactical orthodoxy of the day about how to fight naval battles. Instead of engaging the opposing fleets in a single parallel line, Nelson arranged his ships into two columns that sailed perpendicularly into the enemy line.

During the battle, Nelson was shot by a French sniper and he died shortly before the battle ended. Controversy surrounds Nelson’s last words spoken to Captain Thomas Hardy, his flag captain. They have been reported variously as both “Kismet, Hardy” or “Kiss Me, Hardy.” The Royal Naval Museum weighs in with support for latter phrase.

Villeneuve was captured, along with his ship Bucentaure. He later attended Nelson’s funeral while a captive on parole in Britain. Admiral Federico Gravina, the senior Spanish flag officer, escaped with the remnant of the fleet. He died five months later from wounds sustained during the battle.

Nelson’s body was brought back to Great Britain and he was given a hero’s funeral.

The website of the Royal Naval Museum reports:

After the battle, his body was encased in a large casket called a leaguer. It was then filled with brandy as this has preservative qualities. At Gibraltar, where HMS Victory put in, the brandy that had not been absorbed by the corpse was replaced by spirits of wine for the journey home to Britain, which took four and half weeks due to bad weather.”

In 1843, the famous Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column were built in London to honor the victorious Vice Admiral.

A wonderful book about the battle is Nelson’s Trafalgar: The Battle that Changed the World by Roy Adkins (Viking, 2005). This very informative and entertaining book is not only about this one particular battle, but about sea warfare in general.

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