It’s Tuesday! Did You Know…
* 1928 – Famous FIve to take “Persons Case” to British Privy Council after Supreme Court of Canada Ruling.
The Persons Case (officially Edwards v. A.G. of Canada) was a constitutional ruling that established the right of women to be appointed to the Senate. The case was initiated by the Famous Five, a group of prominent women activists. In 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not “persons” according to the British North America Act and therefore were ineligible for appointment to the Senate. However, the women appealed to the Privy Council of England, which in 1929 reversed the Court’s decision. The Persons Case opened the Senate to women, enabling them to work for change in both the House of Commons and the Upper House. Moreover, the legal recognition of women as “persons” meant that women could no longer be denied rights based on a narrow interpretation of the law.
According to Canadian legal scholar Sheryl Hamilton, five different governments from 1917 to 1927 suggested that although they would like to appoint a woman to Senate, Section 24 of the BNA Act made it impossible. In 1923, Prime Minister Mackenzie King asked Senator Archibald McCoig to propose an amendment to the Act, but the proposal was never made.
To activists, the government was using Section 24 of the BNA Act as an excuse for stalling. In August 1927, Emily Murphy invited four prominent women activists (Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards) to her home in Edmonton. Her plan was to send a petition to the Canadian government regarding the interpretation of the word “persons” in the BNA Act. According to Section 60 of the Supreme Court Act, a group of five persons could petition the government to direct the Supreme Court to interpret a point of law in the BNA Act. On 27 August 1927, the Famous Five signed the letter, which was sent to the governor general. The petition asked that the Supreme Court rule on the following two questions:
1. Is power vested in the Governor-General in Council of Canada, or the Parliament of Canada, or either of them, to appoint a female to the Senate of Canada? 2. Is it constitutionally possible for the Parliament of Canada under the provisions of the British North America Act, or otherwise, to make provision for the appointment of a female to the Senate of Canada?
The minister of Justice, Ernest Lapointe, believed that it would be an “act of justice to the women of Canada to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada upon the point.” The Supreme Court was therefore directed to consider the following question: “Does the word ‘Person’ in section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?”
The Supreme Court (Chief Justice Francis Alexander Anglin, Mr. Justice Lyman Duff, Mr. Justice Pierre-Basile Mignault, Mr. Justice John Lamont and Mr. Justice Robert Smith) ruled unanimously on 24 April 1928 that women were not “persons” under Section 24 of the BNA Act, and were therefore ineligible for appointment to the Senate. Their decision was based on the premise that the BNA Act had to be interpreted the same way in 1928 as in 1867 when the Act was passed. It was generally accepted that in 1867, “persons” would have included men only, which was supported by the fact that women could not hold political office at that time; thus, they argued, the BNA Act would have specifically referred to women if they had meant an exception for Senate appointments.
Privy Council Decision
The Famous Five were disappointed, but not defeated. There was one higher authority to which they could appeal: the Privy Council of England. After much deliberation, the Privy Council reversed the decision of the Supreme Court on 18 October 1929, concluding that “the word ‘persons’ in Sec. 24 does include women, and that women are eligible to be summoned to and become members of the Senate of Canada.”
Lord Sankey, who delivered the judgement on behalf of the Privy Council, also remarked that the “exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours […] and to those who ask why the word [persons] should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not.”
their Lordships do not think it right to apply rigidly to Canada of to-day the decisions and the reasonings therefor which commended themselves […] to those who had to apply the law in different circumstances, in different centuries, to countries in different stages of development.
* 1916 Easter Rebellion begins in Ireland.
On this day in 1916, on Easter Monday in Dublin, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret organization of Irish nationalists led by Patrick Pearse, launches the so-called Easter Rebellion, an armed uprising against British rule. Assisted by militant Irish socialists under James Connolly, Pearse and his fellow Republicans rioted and attacked British provincial government headquarters across Dublin and seized the Irish capital’s General Post Office. Following these successes, they proclaimed the independence of Ireland, which had been under the repressive thumb of the United Kingdom for centuries, and by the next morning were in control of much of the city. Later that day, however, British authorities launched a counteroffensive, and by April 29 the uprising had been crushed. Nevertheless, the Easter Rebellion is considered a significant marker on the road to establishing an independent Irish republic.
Following the uprising, Pearse and 14 other nationalist leaders were executed for their participation and held up as martyrs by many in Ireland. There was little love lost among most Irish people for the British, who had enacted a series of harsh anti-Catholic restrictions, the Penal Laws, in the 18th century, and then let 1.5 million Irish starve during the Potato Famine of 1845-1852. The armed protest continued after the Easter Rebellion and in 1921, 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties won independence with the declaration of the Irish Free State. The Free State became an independent republic in 1949. However, six northeastern counties of the Emerald Isle remained part of the United Kingdom, prompting some nationalists to reorganize themselves into the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to continue their struggle for full Irish independence.
In the late 1960s, influenced in part by the U.S. civil rights movement, Catholics in Northern Ireland, long discriminated against by British policies that favored Irish Protestants, advocated for justice. Civil unrest broke out between Catholics and Protestants in the region and the violence escalated as the pro-Catholic IRA battled British troops. An ongoing series of terrorist bombings and attacks ensued in a drawn-out conflict that came to be known as “The Troubles.” Peace talks eventually took place throughout the mid- to late 1990s, but a permanent end to the violence remained elusive. Finally, in July 2005, the IRA announced its members would give up all their weapons and pursue the group’s objectives solely through peaceful means. By the fall of 2006, the Independent Monitoring Commission reported that the IRA’s military campaign to end British rule was over.
* 1955 The Bandung Conference concludes
The Afro-Asian Conference–popularly known as the Bandung Conference because it was held in Bandung, Indonesia–comes to a close on this day. During the conference, representatives from 29 “non-aligned” nations in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East met to condemn colonialism, decry racism, and express their reservations about the growing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Bandung Conference grew out of an increasing sense of frustration and alienation among the so-called “non-aligned” nations of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. These were nations that preferred to remain neutral during the Cold War, believing that their interests would not be served by allying with either the United States or the Soviet Union. In April 1955, representatives from 29 of these nations, including Egypt, Indonesia, India, Iraq, and the People’s Republic of China, met to consider the issues they considered most pressing. Various speeches and resolutions condemned colonialism and imperialism and called for the freedom of all subjugated peoples. Racism in all forms was likewise criticized, with the apartheid system of South Africa coming in for particularly harsh denunciations. The assembled nations also called for an end to the nuclear arms race and the elimination of atomic weapons. The fundamental message of many of the sessions was the same: the Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union had little meaning to nations battling for economic development, improved health, and better crop yields, and fighting against the forces of colonialism and racism.
The United States government was generally appalled by the Bandung Conference. Although invited to do so, it refused to send an unofficial observer to the meetings. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was already on record as equating neutralism in the fight against communism as close to a mortal sin. For the United States, the issue was black and white: join America in the fight against communism or risk being considered a potential enemy. This unfortunate policy brought the United States into numerous conflicts with nations of the underdeveloped world who were struggling to find a middle road in the Cold War conflict.
* 1980 Hostage rescue mission ends in disaster
On April 24, 1980, an ill-fated military operation to rescue the 52 American hostages held in Tehran ends with eight U.S. servicemen dead and no hostages rescued.
With the Iran Hostage Crisis stretching into its sixth month and all diplomatic appeals to the Iranian government ending in failure, President Jimmy Carter ordered the military mission as a last-ditch attempt to save the hostages. During the operation, three of eight helicopters failed, crippling the crucial airborne plans. The mission was then canceled at the staging area in Iran, but during the withdrawal one of the retreating helicopters collided with one of six C-130 transport planes, killing eight soldiers and injuring five. The next day, a somber Jimmy Carter gave a press conference in which he took full responsibility for the tragedy. The hostages were not released for another 270 days.
On November 4, 1979, the crisis began when militant Iranian students, outraged that the U.S. government had allowed the ousted Shah of Iran to travel to the U.S. for medical treatment, seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s political and religious leader, took over the hostage situation and agreed to release non-U.S. captives and female and minority Americans, citing these groups as among the people oppressed by the U.S. government. The remaining 52 captives remained at the mercy of the Ayatollah for the next 14 months.
President Carter was unable to diplomatically resolve the crisis, and the April 1980 hostage attempt ended in disaster. Three months later, the former shah died of cancer in Egypt, but the crisis continued. In November, Carter lost the presidential election to Republican Ronald Reagan, and soon after, with the assistance of Algerian intermediaries, successful negotiations began between the United States and Iran. On the day of Reagan’s inauguration, January 20, 1981, the United States freed almost $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets, and the 52 hostages were released after 444 days. The next day, Jimmy Carter flew to West Germany to greet the Americans on their way home.
* 1945 Truman is briefed on Manhattan Project
President Harry Truman learns the full details of the Manhattan Project, in which scientists are attempting to create the first atomic bomb, on this day in 1945. The information thrust upon Truman a momentous decision: whether or not to use the world’s first weapon of mass destruction.
America’s secret development of the atomic bomb began in 1939 with then-President Franklin Roosevelt’s support. The project was so secret that FDR did not even inform his fourth-term vice president, Truman, that it existed. (In fact, when Truman’s 1943 senatorial investigations into war-production expenditures led him to ask questions about a suspicious plant in Minneapolis, which was secretly connected with the Manhattan Project, Truman received a stern phone call from FDR’s secretary of war, Harry Stimson, warning him not to inquire further.)
When President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Truman was immediately sworn in and, soon after, was informed by Stimson of a new and terrible weapon being developed by physicists in New Mexico. In his diary that night, Truman noted that he had been informed that the U.S. was perfecting an explosive great enough to destroy the whole world.
On April 24, Stimson and the army general in charge of the project, Leslie Groves, brought Truman a file full of reports and details on the Manhattan Project. They told Truman that although the U.S. was the only country with the resources to develop the bomb–eliminating fears that Germany was close to developing the weapon–the Russians could possibly have atomic weapons within four years. They discussed if, and with which allies, they should share the information and how the new weapon would affect U.S. foreign-policy decisions. Truman authorized the continuation of the project and agreed to form an interim committee that would advise the president on using the weapon.
Although the war in Europe ended in May 1945, Stimson advised Truman that the bomb might be useful in intimidating Soviet leader Joseph Stalin into curtailing post-war communist expansion into Eastern Europe. Truman agreed and said that if the weapon proved feasible I’ll certainly have a hammer on those [Russians]. Meanwhile, the war with Japan dragged on and it looked to many as if the Japanese would never surrender. On July 16, the team of scientists at the Alamogordo, New Mexico, research station successfully exploded the first atomic bomb. Truman gave Stimson the handwritten order to release when ready but not sooner than August 2 on July 31, 1945.
The first bomb was exploded over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and a second was dropped on Nagasaki on August 8. The Japanese quickly surrendered. Although other nations have developed atomic weapons and nuclear technology since 1945, Truman remains the only world leader to have ever used an atomic bomb against an enemy.
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* On This Day – History, Film, Music and Sport http://www.onthisday.com/
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/