On This Day
1291 – The Old Swiss Confederacy is formed with the signature of the Federal Charter.
The Old Swiss Confederacy (Modern German: Alte Eidgenossenschaft; historically Eidgenossenschaft, after the Reformation also République des Suisses, Res publica Helvetiorum “Republic of the Swiss”) was a loose confederation of independent small states (cantons, German Orte or Stände) within the Holy Roman Empire. It is the precursor of the modern state of Switzerland.
It formed during the 14th century, from a nucleus in what is now Central Switzerland, expanding to include the cities of Zürich and Berne by the middle of the century. This formed a rare union of rural and urban communes, all of which enjoyed imperial immediacy in the Holy Roman Empire.
This confederation of eight cantons (Acht Orte) was politically and militarily successful for more than a century, culminating in the Burgundy Wars of the 1470s which established it as a power in the complicated political landscape dominated by France and the Habsburgs. Its success resulted in the addition of more confederates, increasing the number of cantons to thirteen (Dreizehn Orte) by 1513. The confederacy pledged neutrality in 1647 (under the threat of the Thirty Years’ War), although many Swiss served privately as mercenaries in the Italian Wars and during the Early Modern period.
After the Swabian War of 1499 the confederacy was a de facto independent state throughout the early modern period, although still nominally part of the Holy Roman Empire until 1648 when the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War. The Swiss Reformation divided the confederates into Reformed and Catholic parties, resulting in internal conflict from the 16th to the 18th centuries; as a result, the federal diet (Tagsatzung) was often paralysed by hostility between the factions. The Swiss Confederacy fell to invasion by the French Revolutionary Army in 1798, after which it became the short-lived Helvetic Republic.
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1776 – The signing of the United States Declaration of Independence took place.
The United States Declaration of Independence (formally The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America) is the pronouncement adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776. The Declaration explained why the Thirteen Colonies at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain regarded themselves as thirteen independent sovereign states, no longer under British rule. With the Declaration, these new states took a collective first step toward forming the United States of America. The declaration was signed by representatives from New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
The Lee Resolution for independence was passed by the Second Continental Congress on July 2 with no opposing votes. The Committee of Five had drafted the Declaration to be ready when Congress voted on independence. John Adams, a leader in pushing for independence, had persuaded the committee to select Thomas Jefferson to compose the original draft of the document, which Congress edited to produce the final version. The Declaration was a formal explanation of why Congress had voted to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America” – although Independence Day is actually celebrated on July 4, the date that the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved.
After ratifying the text on July 4, Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in several forms. It was initially published as the printed Dunlap broadside that was widely distributed and read to the public. The source copy used for this printing has been lost and may have been a copy in Thomas Jefferson’s hand. Jefferson’s original draft is preserved at the Library of Congress, complete with changes made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, as well as Jefferson’s notes of changes made by Congress. The best-known version of the Declaration is a signed copy that is displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and which is popularly regarded as the official document. This engrossed copy (finalized, calligraphic copy) was ordered by Congress on July 19 and signed primarily on August 2.
The sources and interpretation of the Declaration have been the subject of much scholarly inquiry. The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing 27 colonial grievances against King George III and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution. Its original purpose was to announce independence, and references to the text of the Declaration were few in the following years. Abraham Lincoln made it the centerpiece of his policies and his rhetoric, as in the Gettysburg Address of 1863. Since then, it has become a well-known statement on human rights, particularly its second sentence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
This has been called “one of the best-known sentences in the English language”, containing “the most potent and consequential words in American history”. The passage came to represent a moral standard to which the United States should strive. This view was notably promoted by Lincoln, who considered the Declaration to be the foundation of his political philosophy and argued that it is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.
The Declaration of Independence inspired many similar documents in other countries, the first being the 1789 Declaration of United Belgian States issued during the Brabant Revolution in the Austrian Netherlands. It also served as the primary model for numerous declarations of independence in Europe and Latin America, as well as Africa (Liberia) and Oceania (New Zealand) during the first half of the 19th century.
Born On This Day
1865 – Isobel Lilian Gloag, English painter (d. 1917)
Isobel Lilian Gloag (1865–1917) was an English painter, known for her oil and watercolour portraits, as well as posters and stained-glass designs.
Gloag was born in London, the daughter of Scottish parents from Perthshire. Her early studies were made at St. John’s Wood Art School, and she later studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. Ill health compelled her to put aside plans for regular study, and she entered the studio of M.W. Ridley’s for private instruction, following this with work at the South Kensington Museum. After still further study with Raphaël Collin in Paris, she returned to London and soon had her work accepted at the Royal Academy of Arts, where she exhibited a total of 19 works. She was an elected member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and the New Society of Painters in Water-Colours. Her earlier works were inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites, while later works were more modern, and her works have been cited as examples of post-Victorian Aestheticism. She made several designs for the stained-glass artist Mary Lowndes. Suffering from health problems throughout her life, she died in London on 5 January 1917, aged 51. Her work was posthumously featured in an exhibition at the Grafton Galleries, London.
1870 – Marianne Weber, German sociologist and suffragist (d. 1954)
Marianne Weber (born Marianne Schnitger, 2 August 1870 – 12 March 1954) was a German sociologist, women’s rights activist and the wife of Max Weber.
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