In 1315, Louis X, king of France, published a decree proclaiming that “France signifies freedom” and that any slave setting foot on the French ground should be freed. And France maintained that law, even after it began allowing slavery in its New World colonies in the 1600s. Any enslaved person who as brought to France became free. Born into slavery in Saint Domingue, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas became free when his father brought him to France in 1776.
Slavery in the French colonies was another story. The French crown regulated the slave trade and institution in the colonies, starting with Louis XIV’s Code Noir in 1685. The royal government had over 100 years of profiting from plantation-based slavery and particularly sugar production before the French Revolution killed the royal family and attempted to end slavery in the colonies. The first elected Assembly of the First Republic abolished slavery in France (since the royal law was no longer recognized) and more importantly in France’s colonies.
However, Napoleon restored slavery and the slave trade in 1802. This was mainly because of lobbying by planters in the West Indies, and to benefit from taxing the planter’s slavery-produced profits. In 1848, under the Second Republic, slavery was totally abolished in the French colonies. And this time it stuck.
Catherine of Aragon was the first-ever female ambassador in Europe. She was named the ambassador from the kingdom of Aragon to England in 1507.
At the time, Catherine was the 22-year-old widow of the former crown prince, Arthur. He had died in 1502, and Catherine had stayed on in England and become betrothed to the new crown prince, Henry. It was not because Henry particularly wanted her. No, Catherine was still in England because her father-in-law King Henry VII did not want to give back Catherine’s very large dowry.
Catherine’s position was precarious.
She had little money, as neither her parents nor her penny-pinching father-in-law wished to support her financially. She had no status, as her husband was dead and her betrothed had remained just that for going on three years. Naming Catherine ambassador, therefore, was less a compliment to her diplomatic skills and more a way to bolster her position and therefore her parent’s.
On June 14, 1825, the Brazilian province of Cisplatina illegally formed a provisional government On August 25, 1825, Cisplatina’s newly-elected assembly voted to secede from Brazil. This started the Cisplatine War, which ended with the Treat of Montevideo in 1828. Cisplatina was now the independent nation of Uruguay.
While British and American suffragettes get all the attention, Japan had a contemporary suffragette movement. It began after the Meiji Restoration when major educational and political reforms started educating women but excluding them from participation in the new “democratic” government. By law, they were barred from joining political parties, expressing political views, and attending political meetings. Japanese women, more educated then ever and slowly participating in Japan’s workforce, began fighting for the right to participate in the new civil democracy as well.
Unfortunately, when Western white women began winning the right to vote after World War I, Japanese women’s participation in politics was still fighting for basic rights. In 1921, for instance, a court ruling overturned the law forbidding women from attending political meetings. This led to a flowering of women’s suffrage organizations in the 1920s, in addition to literary circles which began publishing feminist magazines during the interwar period.
Japanese women kept the issue alive, but did not win the right to vote until 1945, when election laws were revised under the American occupation.
In 1945, the U.S. State Department commissioned an official Spanish translation of the Star-Spangled Banner as part of an effort to redefine the US’ relationship with Latin America. So the US State Department held a contest! They requested Spanish versions that fit musically while being as close to the original as possible.
In the end, the winner was “El Pendón Estrellado” by Peruvian immigrant Clotilde Arias, a New York-based composer. It has never caught on.
In 29 CE, the worst sports disaster in the history of the world took place. In Fidenae, a town 8 miles north of Rome, a cheap, wooden gladiator amphitheater collapsed killing about 20,000 people.
In response the Roman Senate banished the builder of the stadium, and passed building regulations for arenas to prevent future disasters, requiring that new stadiums had to be inspected and certified by the state as safe.
Just to make really sure no one would be building cheap, collapsible stadiums, they also banned anyone with a fortune of less than 400,000 sesterces from building amphitheaters. That translates to between 630,000 and 2,400,000 USD today. Yes, it is a really wide margin, I know. Converting ancient commodity currency to modern fiat currency is hard, guys.
Pakistan was the first Muslim nation to elect a female prime minister. Benazir Bhutto served as the 11th prime minister from 1988 to 1990, and the 13th prime minister from 1993 to 1996. Ideologically a liberal and a secularist, she chaired or co-chaired the center-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) from the early 1980s until her assassination by a suicide bomber in 2007.
Sasuke Uno was the prime minister of Japan for just over two months – from early June 1989 to early August 1989. He resigned after it came out that he had kept a geisha as a mistress for a period of five months before becoming prime minister.
The problem was less his extramarital affair, and more how callous and stingy he was with the lady. He offered her money the first night he met her, claimed to have “saved” her with his money, and generally treated her “disdainfully.”
It was the first time that a Japanese politician’s private life was publicized in the media in such a way.