Mar 13 2011

On This Day in History March 13

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 13 is the 72nd day of the year (73rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 293 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1881. Czar Alexander II, the ruler of Russia since 1855, is killed in the streets of St. Petersburg by a bomb thrown by a member of the revolutionary “People’s Will” group. The People’s Will, organized in 1879, employed terrorism and assassination in their attempt to overthrow Russia’s czarist autocracy. They murdered officials and made several attempts on the czar’s life before finally assassinating him on March 13, 1881.

Alexander II succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father in 1855. The first year of his reign was devoted to the prosecution of the Crimean War and, after the fall of Sevastopol, to negotiations for peace, led by his trusted counsellor Prince Gorchakov. The country had been exhausted and humiliated by the war. Bribe-taking, theft and corruption were everywhere. Encouraged by public opinion he began a period of radical reforms, including an attempt to not to depend on a landed aristocracy controlling the poor, a move to developing Russia’s natural resources and to thoroughly reform all branches of the administration.

Emancipation of the serfs

In spite of his obstinacy in playing the Russian autocrat, Alexander II acted willfully for several years, somewhat like a constitutional sovereign of the continental type. Soon after the conclusion of peace, important changes were made in legislation concerning industry and commerce, and the new freedom thus afforded produced a large number of limited liability companies. Plans were formed for building a great network of railways-partly for the purpose of developing the natural resources of the country, and partly for the purpose of increasing its power for defence and attack.

The existence of serfdom was tackled boldly, taking advantage of a petition presented by the Polish landed proprietors of the Lithuanian provinces and, hoping that their relations with the serfs might be regulated in a more satisfactory way (meaning in a way more satisfactory for the proprietors), he authorised the formation of committees “for ameliorating the condition of the peasants”, and laid down the principles on which the amelioration was to be effected.

This step was followed by one still more significant. Without consulting his ordinary advisers, Alexander ordered the Minister of the Interior to send a circular to the provincial governors of European Russia, containing a copy of the instructions forwarded to the governor-general of Lithuania, praising the supposed generous, patriotic intentions of the Lithuanian landed proprietors, and suggesting that perhaps the landed proprietors of other provinces might express a similar desire. The hint was taken: in all provinces where serfdom existed, emancipation committees were formed.

But the emancipation was not merely a humanitarian question capable of being solved instantaneously by imperial ukase. It contained very complicated problems, deeply affecting the economic, social and political future of the nation.

Alexander had to choose between the different measures recommended to him. Should the serfs become agricultural labourers dependent economically and administratively on the landlords, or should they be transformed into a class of independent communal proprietors?

The emperor gave his support to the latter project, and the Russian peasantry became one of the last groups of peasants in Europe to shake off serfdom.

The architects of the emancipation manifesto were Alexander’s brother Konstantin, Yakov Rostovtsev, and Nikolay Milyutin.

On 3 March 1861, 6 years after his accession, the emancipation law was signed and published.

 1138 – Cardinal Gregorio Conti is elected Antipope as Victor IV, succeeding Anacletus II.

1639 – Harvard College is named for clergyman John Harvard.

1781 – William Herschel discovers Uranus.

1809 – Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden is deposed in a coup d’ètat.

1845 – Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto receives its premèire performance in Leipzig with Ferdinand David as soloist.

1862 – American Civil War: The U.S. federal government forbids all Union army officers to return fugitive slaves, thus effectively annulling the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and setting the stage for the Emancipation Proclamation.

1865 – American Civil War: The Confederate States of America agree to the use of African American troops.

1881 – Alexander II of Russia is killed near his palace when a bomb is thrown at him. (Gregorian date: it was March 1 in the Julian calendar then in use in Russia.)

1884 – The Siege of Khartoum, Sudan begins, ending on January 26, 1885.

1897 – San Diego State University is founded.

1900 – Second Boer War: British forces occupy Bloemfontein, Orange Free State.

1920 – The Kapp Putsch briefly ousts the Weimar Republic government from Berlin.

1921 – Mongolia, under Baron Roman Ungern von Sternberg, declares its independence from China.

1925 – Scopes Trial: A law in Tennessee prohibits the teaching of evolution.

1930 – The news of the discovery of Pluto is telegraphed to the Harvard College Observatory.

1933 – Great Depression: Banks in the U.S. begin to re-open after President Franklin D. Roosevelt mandates a “bank holiday”.

1938 – World News Roundup is broadcast for the first time on CBS Radio in the United States.

1938 – Anschluss of Austria to the Third Reich.

1940 – The Russo-Finnish Winter War ends.

1943 – World War II: In Bougainville, Japanese troops end their assault on American forces at Hill 700.

1943 – The Holocaust: German forces liquidate the Jewish ghetto in Krakow.

1954 – Battle of Dien Bien Phu: Viet Minh forces attack the French.

1957 – Cuban student revolutionaries storm the presidential palace in Havana in a failed attempt on the life of President Fulgencio Batista.

1962 – Lyman Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivers a proposal, called Operation Northwoods, regarding performing terrorist attacks upon Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The proposal is scrapped and President John F. Kennedy removes Lemnitzer from his position.

1964 – American Kitty Genovese is murdered, reportedly in view of neighbors who did nothing to help her, prompting research into the bystander effect.

1969 – Apollo program: Apollo 9 returns safely to Earth after testing the Lunar Module.

1979 – The New Jewel Movement, headed by Maurice Bishop, ousts Prime Minister Eric Gairy in a nearly bloodless coup d’etat in Grenada.

1988 – The Seikan Tunnel, the longest undersea tunnel in the world, opens between Aomori and Hakodate, Japan.

1991 – The United States Department of Justice announces that Exxon has agreed to pay $1 billion for the clean-up of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

1992 – An earthquake registering 6.8 on the Richter scale kills over 500 in Erzincan, eastern Turkey.

1996 – Dunblane massacre: in Dunblane, Scotland, 16 Primary School children and 1 teacher are shot dead by a spree killer, Thomas Watt Hamilton who then committed suicide.

1997 – The Phoenix lights are seen over Phoenix, Arizona by hundreds of people, and by millions on television.

2003 – Human evolution: The journal Nature reports that 350,000-year-old footprints of an upright-walking human have been found in Italy.

2008 – Gold prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange hit $1,000 per ounce for the first time.

Holidays and observances

   * Christian Feast Day:

         o Euphrasia of Constantinople

         o Gerald of Mayo

         o Leander of Seville

         o Leticia

         o Nicephorus

         o Roderick

         o Sabinus of Hermopolis

   * Kasuga Matsuri (Kasuga Grand Shrine, Nara, Japan)