It’s Monday! Did You Know…
* 1931 – Statute of Westminster gives Dominions Control over Their Foreign Policy.
The Statute of Westminster 1931 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and modified versions of it are now domestic law within Australia and Canada; it has been repealed in New Zealand and implicitly in former Dominions that are no longer Commonwealth realms. Passed on 11 December 1931, the act, either immediately or upon ratification, effectively both established the legislative independence of the self-governing Dominions of the British Empire from the United Kingdom and bound them all to seek each other’s approval for changes to monarchical titles and the common line of succession. It thus became a statutory embodiment of the principles of equality and common allegiance to the Crown set out in the Balfour Declaration of 1926. It was a crucial step in the development of the Dominions as separate states.
The Statute of Westminster’s relevance today is that it sets the basis for the continuing relationship between the Commonwealth realms and the Crown.
Although Canadians celebrate July 1st, 1867 as the date when Canada became a political state with control over her own domestic policy as set by the Canadian Parliament, Canada was still a colony within the British Empire and her foreign policy was controlled by Britain until 1931. Canada was drawn into World War I when Britain declared war on Germany. Canada’s Parliament declared war on Germany, Italy, and Japan in World War II.
* 1936 Edward VIII abdicates.
After ruling for less than one year, Edward VIII becomes the first English monarch to voluntarily abdicate the throne. He chose to abdicate after the British government, public, and the Church of England condemned his decision to marry the American divorcée, Wallis Warfield Simpson. On the evening of December 11, he gave a radio address in which he explained, “I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.” On December 12, his younger brother, the Duke of York, was proclaimed King George VI.
Edward, born in 1894, was the eldest son of King George V, who became the British sovereign in 1910. Still unmarried as he approached his 40th birthday, he socialized with the fashionable London society of the day. By 1934, he had fallen deeply in love with American socialite Wallis Warfield Simpson, who was married to Ernest Simpson, an English-American businessman who lived with Mrs. Simpson near London. Wallis, who was born in Pennsylvania, had previously married and divorced a U.S. Navy pilot. The royal family disapproved of Edward’s married mistress, but by 1936 the prince was intent on marrying Mrs. Simpson. Before he could discuss this intention with his father, George V died, in January 1936, and Edward was proclaimed king.
The new king proved popular with his subjects, and his coronation was scheduled for May 1937. His affair with Mrs. Simpson was reported in American and continental European newspapers, but due to a gentlemen’s agreement between the British press and the government, the affair was kept out of British newspapers. On October 27, 1936, Mrs. Simpson obtained a preliminary decree of divorce, presumably with the intent of marrying the king, which precipitated a major scandal. To the Church of England and most British politicians, an American woman twice divorced was unacceptable as a prospective British queen. Winston Churchill, then a Conservative backbencher, was the only notable politician to support Edward.
Despite the seemingly united front against him, Edward could not be dissuaded. He proposed a morganatic marriage, in which Wallis would be granted no rights of rank or property, but on December 2, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin rejected the suggestion as impractical. The next day, the scandal broke on the front pages of British newspapers and was discussed openly in Parliament. With no resolution possible, the king renounced the throne on December 10. The next day, Parliament approved the abdication instrument, and Edward VIII’s reign came to an end. The new king, George VI, made his older brother the Duke of Windsor. On June 3, 1937, the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Warfield married at the Château de Cande in France’s Loire Valley.
For the next two years, the duke and duchess lived primarily in France but visited other European countries, including Germany, where the duke was honored by Nazi officials in October 1937 and met with Adolf Hitler. After the outbreak of World War II, the duke accepted a position as liaison officer with the French. In June 1940, France fell to the Nazis, and Edward and Wallis went to Spain. During this period, the Nazis concocted a scheme to kidnap Edward with the intention of returning him to the British throne as a puppet king. George VI, like his prime minister, Winston Churchill, was adamantly opposed to any peace with Nazi Germany. Unaware of the Nazi kidnapping plot but conscious of Edward’s pre-war Nazi sympathies, Churchill hastily offered Edward the governorship of the Bahamas in the West Indies. The Duke and Duchess set sail from Lisbon on August 1, 1940, narrowly escaping a Nazi SS team sent to seize them.
In 1945, the Duke resigned his post, and the couple moved back to France. They lived mainly in Paris, and Edward made a few visits to England, such as to attend the funerals of King George VI in 1952 and his mother, Queen Mary, in 1953. It was not until 1967 that the duke and duchess were invited by the royal family to attend an official public ceremony, the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to Queen Mary. Edward died in Paris in 1972 but was buried at Frogmore, on the grounds of Windsor Castle. In 1986, Wallis died and was buried at his side.
* 1944 Toronto endures record snowstorm.
The city of Toronto, Canada, is battered with its worst-ever snowfall on this day in 1944. Twenty-one people died as a result of the record storm, in which nearly 20 inches of snow fell in a single day.
The storm began hundreds of miles to the south near the Gulf of Mexico; it stalled after moving north over Toronto. In addition to the tremendous amount of snow, the winds from the storm were so high that visibility was reduced to nothing. The blizzard also created huge drifts that trapped people inside their homes. A streetcar on Queen Street was knocked over by the wind and snow, trapping 170 people and killing one person. All traffic and businesses in the city were shut down. Perhaps most importantly, as the storm took place during World War II, the city’s ammunition factory was forced to close.
Thirteen of the 21 storm-related deaths came as a result of heart attacks caused by overexertion as people shoveled snow to dig themselves out of their homes. The Toronto Daily Star‘s headline the next day was “Whole City Stopped as if by Giant Hand.” Mac’s, a famous restaurant at the University of Toronto, had to close for the first time in its history.
Although it is difficult to measure snowfall to assess records, this blizzard was certainly close to a single-day high. In the 1998-99 winter, Mt. Baker in northeastern Washington reported its own record high—a remarkable 1,140 inches of snow. This is believed to be the all-time high for seasonal snowfall.
* 1946 UNICEF founded.
In the aftermath of World War II, the General Assembly of the United Nations votes to establish the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), an organization to help provide relief and support to children living in countries devastated by the war.
After the food and medical crisis of the late 1940s passed, UNICEF continued its role as a relief organization for the children of troubled nations and during the 1970s grew into a vocal advocate of children’s rights. During the 1980s, UNICEF assisted the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in the drafting of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. After its introduction to the U.N. General Assembly in 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child became the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, and UNICEF played a key role in ensuring its enforcement.
Of the 184 member states of the United Nations, only two countries have failed to ratify the treaty–Somalia and the United States. Somalia does not currently have an internationally recognized government, so ratification is impossible, and the United States, which was one of the original signatories of the convention, has failed to ratify the treaty because of concerns about its potential impact on national sovereignty and the parent-child relationship.
* 1964 Sam Cooke dies under suspicious circumstances in LA.
On December 11, 1964, in response to a reported shooting, officers of the Los Angeles Police Department were dispatched to the Hacienda Motel, where they found Sam Cooke dead on the office floor, shot three times in the chest by the motel’s manager, Bertha Franklin. The authorities ruled Cooke’s death a case of justifiable homicide, based on the testimony of Ms. Franklin, who claimed that Cooke had threatened her life after attempting to rape a young woman with whom he had earlier checked in.
Even as the lurid details of the case were becoming common knowledge, some 200,000 fans turned out in the streets of Los Angeles and Chicago to mourn the passing of Sam Cooke, a man whose legacy seemed able to transcend the scandal surrounding his death. That legacy was built during a brief but spectacular run as a singer, songwriter, producer, and music publisher in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Born in 1931 to a Baptist minister and his wife, Cooke’s early musical development took place in the church. Like other early figures in what would eventually be called “soul” music, Cooke began his professional career singing gospel. A member of the legendary Soul Stirrers since the age of 19, Cooke was given permission by his record label to begin recording secular music in 1956.
“You Send Me” (1957) was Sam Cooke’s first pop smash, and it was followed by such classics as “Chain Gang” (1960), “Cupid” (1961), “Twistin’ the Night Away” (1962) and the Dylan-inspired posthumous release that became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement: “A Change Is Gonna Come” (1964). His voice has been called the most important in the history of soul music, but just as important to Sam Cooke’s historical standing is the fact that he also wrote all of the aforementioned hits—a remarkable fact for any popular singer of his time.
In the years since his death, the circumstances surrounding Cooke’s shooting have been called into question by his family and others. Though the truth of what happened on this day in 1964 might remain uncertain, Sam Cooke’s place in the history of popular music is anything but.
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/