It’s Saturday! Did You Know…
* 1834 – Papineau and Morin Draft Ninety-Two Resolutions Demanding Responsible Government
Drafted in January 1834 by Louis-Joseph Papineau, leader of the Parti patriote, and Augustin-Norbert Morin, the 92 Resolutions were a list of grievances and demands made by the Parti patriote with regards to the state of the colonial political system. They were drafted following a long political struggle against the governor general and Château Clique and the Patriotes’ inability to produce any significant reforms. The document critiqued the division of authority in the colony and demanded a government that was responsible to the Legislative Assembly. The imperial government responded with the Russell Resolutions, which rejected their demands, preparing the way for the Canadian Rebellion.
The turn of the 19th century was an important moment in Canadian history. Thanks to the Constitutional Act, 1791, the Province of Quebec was divided into two colonies — Upper and Lower Canada — and elected legislative assemblies were established in each colony. Colonists that met voting requirements — based, generally speaking, on land ownership and property — could elect deputies to their respective assemblies. This was also a time when French Canadians acquired a national and political consciousness. Swayed by the Atlantic Revolutions — notably the American and French revolutions — French Canadian colonists began seeking more control and authority over their colony.
Though the establishment of an elected assembly gave the people of Lower Canada some political authority, it was limited. Absolute authority remained in the hands of the governor general and his appointed legislative and executive councils, composed of the local British mercantile elite, referred to as the Château Clique. Neither the governor nor his councils were accountable to the elected assembly and could spend public funds and reject or pass any law as they pleased.
This concerned many deputies in the Legislative Assembly. Seeking a political system that was accountable to the Legislative Assembly, supporters of reform — first under the banner of the Parti Canadien and then the Parti Patriote — used the Assembly as a forum to press for change. However, before them stood the governor general and a local elite, both unwilling to cede more power to the French Canadian–controlled Assembly. This marked the start of a political struggle that pitted a conservative elite fighting to retain its absolute political authority against a reform movement asking for responsible government.
Initially, the Patriotes sought to reform the colony via peaceful means. However, when the governor and his councils were unwilling to negotiate, the Patriotes adopted pressure tactics. Though the Legislative Assembly had limited authority, it had one important power: taxation. It was the only political body that could levy taxes, and taxes were an important source of revenue for the governor and his councils. Every time the Patriotes asked to reform the political system, after which the governor and his councils responded no, the Patriotes would refuse to levy taxes. As a result, the government could not pay for their salaries or fund public works programs.
In 1832, tensions escalated in Lower Canada: a cholera epidemic killed thousands in Québec and Montréal, crops struggled, and three supporters of the Patriotes were killed by government troops during a riot in Montréal. Moreover, after years of facing a government that was unwilling to consider their demands, Patriote deputies grew more and more frustrated. The party thus began to radicalize with many asking for more ambitious reforms and forceful pressure tactics.
In 1834, the party further radicalized with the 92 Resolutions. Drafted in January 1834 by Louis-Joseph Papineau and Augustin-Norbert Morin, the 92 Resolutions was a list of grievances and demands made by the Parti patriote with regards to the state of the colonial political system. Though the document started with a statement of loyalty and attachment to the British Empire, it followed with a lengthy critique of the entire colonial political system, with the Legislative Council receiving the brunt of condemnations. To the drafters, it was excessive that the governor had so much control over such an important council. According to historian Yvan Lamonde, such authority allowed the governor to “appoint to it only individuals supporting his views.” As a result, the council had become, as the writers of the 92 Resolutions put it, the embodiment of “monopoly and despotism in the executive, judicial and administrative departments of government.”
The resolutions also condemned the colonial secretary, the governor general, the distribution of public offices — which were heavily in favor of the British minority — the Château Clique, and the misappropriation of public funds. No longer content with reforms to the Legislative Council and Assembly, the drafters now sought a complete and total reform of the colonial political system. They sought responsible government and often pointed to the United States and its republican-style government as the answer to their grievances. Finally, also included in the document was the veiled threat that if the British government refused, the population could revolt, just like Americans had in 1776.
On 17 February 1834, Elzéar Bédard presented the resolutions to the Legislative Assembly. This was a divisive moment for the party, leading to the departure of many moderate members of the party. Former political allies, like John Neilson, the publisher of the Quebec Gazette, heavily condemned the resolutions. Others, such as Étienne Parent, applauded them, arguing that Lower Canada represented “the advance guard of Colonial Rights.” On 21 February, the Assembly voted in favor of the resolutions (56 to 23). The resolutions were equally popular beyond the Legislative Assembly. All over the colony, public assemblies in support were organized and a petition of 78,000 was sent to London. The Parti patriote even based their 1834 electoral platform on the resolutions, an election they easily won, taking 77 out of 88 seats. And these votes not only came from the French Canadian population, but also from Irish voters and English-speaking reformists from the Eastern Townships. It appears that the 92 Resolutions tapped into a general desire for reform. Above all, however, they started the inevitable march towards the Canadian Rebellion.
* 1904 Madame Butterfly premieres
On this day in 1904, Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly premieres at the La Scala theatre in Milan, Italy.
The young Puccini decided to dedicate his life to opera after seeing a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida in 1876. In his later life, he would write some of the best-loved operas of all time: La Boheme (1896), Tosca (1900), Madame Butterfly (1904) and Turandot (left unfinished when he died in 1906). Not one of these, however, was an immediate success when it opened. La Boheme, the now-classic story of a group of poor artists living in a Paris garret, earned mixed reviews, while Tosca was downright panned by critics.
While supervising a production of Tosca in London, Puccini saw the play Madame Butterfly, written by David Belasco and based on a story by John Luther Long. Taken with the strong female character at its center, he began working on an operatic version of the play, with an Italian libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. Written over the course of two years–including an eight-month break when Puccini was badly injured in a car accident–the opera made its debut in Milan in February 1904.
Set in Nagasaki, Japan, Madame Butterfly told the story of an American sailor, B.F. Pinkerton, who marries and abandons a young Japanese geisha, Cio-Cio-San, or Madame Butterfly. In addition to the rich, colorful orchestration and powerful arias that Puccini was known for, the opera reflected his common theme of living and dying for love. This theme often played out in the lives of his heroines–women like Cio-Cio-San, who live for the sake of their lovers and are eventually destroyed by the pain inflicted by that love. Perhaps because of the opera’s foreign setting or perhaps because it was too similar to Puccini’s earlier works, the audience at the premiere reacted badly to Madame Butterfly, hissing and yelling at the stage. Puccini withdrew it after one performance. He worked quickly to revise the work, splitting the 90-minute-long second act into two parts and changing other minor aspects. Four months later, the revamped Madame Butterfly went onstage at the Teatro Grande in Brescia. This time, the public greeted the opera with tumultuous applause and repeated encores, and Puccini was called before the curtain 10 times. Madame Butterfly went on to huge international success, moving to New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1907.
* 2000 Dave Eggers’ Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius debuts
On this day in 2000, “A Heartbreaking World of Staggering Genius,” 29-year-old Dave Eggers’ (see featured image at the top) best-selling memoir about his experiences raising his younger brother following the cancer-related deaths of their parents, makes its debut. The critically acclaimed book became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and turned Eggers into a literary star.
Eggers, who was born in Boston in 1970 and raised in Lake Forest, Illinois, studied journalism at the University of Illinois. However, at age 21 he dropped out of school in order to care for his 8-year-old brother Toph, after their parents died of cancer within five weeks of each other. The brothers moved to Berkeley, California, where Dave took care of Toph and worked as a graphic designer and writer and co-founded the satirical magazine Might. Egger’s chronicle of this time, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” was labeled a hip, original and funny tearjerker, filled with clever anecdotes, charts, and footnotes. In 2001, the book was the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction (Ted Conover’s “Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing” won the award).
Following the success of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” Eggers wrote the 2002 novel “You Shall Know Our Velocity,” about two friends who travel around the world trying to give away a large sum of money, and the 2004 story collection “How We Are Hungry.” Eggers’ 2006 book “What Is the What” blended fact and fiction to tell the story of Sudanese “Lost Boy” refugee Valentino Achak Deng. In 2009, Eggers published the well-received “Zeitoun,” about real-life Syrian immigrant Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a New Orleans resident who remained there during Hurricane Katrina then paddled around the flooded city in a canoe rescuing people.
Eggers is also the founder of McSweeney’s, a publishing company that produces books, a literary journal and a magazine called The Believer. Additionally, he has penned screenplays, including 2009’s “Away We Go,” co-written with his novelist wife, Vendela Vida, and “Where the Wild Things Are,” a 2009 big-screen adaptation of the classic children’s story of the same name. Eggers is known for his philanthropy and has helped establish a number of nonprofits, including 826 Valencia, a San Francisco-based writing and tutoring program for young people, which has opened chapters around the United States.
* 1966 Brian Wilson rolls tape on “Good Vibrations” take one
From the very beginning, the Beach Boys had a sound that was unmistakably their own, but without resident genius, Brian Wilson pushing them into deeper waters with his songwriting and production talents, songs like “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” might have been their greatest legacy. While the rest of the band toured during their mid-60s heyday, Wilson lost himself in the recording studio, creating the music for an album—Pet Sounds—that is widely regarded as one of the all-time best, and a single—”Good Vibrations”—on which he lavished more time, attention and money than had ever been spent previously on a single recording. Brian Wilson rolled tape on take one of “Good Vibrations” on February 17, 1966. Six months, four studios and $50,000 later, he finally completed his three-minute-and-thirty-nine-second symphony, pieced together from more than 90 hours of tape-recorded during literally hundreds of sessions.
Brian Wilson began “Good Vibrations” that February night in 1966 with the intention of including it on Pet Sounds. Harmonica player Tommy Morgan recalled how those sessions would work: “You’d sit with a music stand with a blank piece of paper, waiting for Brian to give you your notes. He knew exactly what he wanted. He had every note in his head.” The problem was that Wilson had an awful lot of those notes in his headnotes for different keyboards, different strings, different percussion instruments and, most famously, notes for the most “different” instrument ever to appear on a pop record: the otherworldly electric theremin, an early electronic instrument previously heard only in movies like It Came From Outer Space. Emulating and ultimately outdoing his idol Phil Spector, Brian was building “Good Vibrations” into a massive wall of sound, and the further he went with it, the more it became clear that his vision for the record was too great to rush. Pet Sounds was released without “Good Vibrations,” which Wilson returned to in earnest several months after his initial sessions.
When the rest of his fellow Beach Boys finally heard the track that Brian Wilson had been working on in seclusion for more than half a year, they were extremely enthusiastic, and “Good Vibrations” went on to become their third #1 hit single. It also turned out to be the last Beach Boys recording that Brian Wilson would fully participate in for years to come, as drugs, depression and mental illness derailed his career in the late-1960s.
* 1801 Deadlock over presidential election ends
After one tie vote in the Electoral College and 35 indecisive ballot votes in the House of Representatives, Vice President Thomas Jefferson is elected the third president of the United States over his running mate, Aaron Burr. The confusing election, which ended just 15 days before a new president was to be inaugurated, exposed major problems in the presidential electoral process set forth by the framers of the U.S. Constitution.
As dictated by Article Two of the Constitution, presidents and vice presidents are elected by “electors,” a group of voters chosen by each state in a manner specified by that state’s legislature. The total number of electors from each state is equal to the number of senators and representatives that state is entitled to in Congress. In the first few presidential elections, these electors were chosen by popular vote, legislative appointment, or a combination of both (by the 1820s, almost all states adopted the practice of choosing electors by popular vote). Each elector voted for two people; at least one of who did not live in their state. The individual receiving the greatest number of votes would be elected president, and the next in line, vice president.
A majority of electors was needed to win election, thus ensuring consensus across states. Because each elector voted twice, it was possible for as many as three candidates to tie with a majority–in which case the House of Representatives was to vote a winner from among the tied candidates. If no majority was achieved in the initial electoral vote, the House was to decide the winner from the top five candidates. In both cases, representatives would not vote individually but by state groups. Each state, no matter what its number of representatives, would be entitled to just one vote, and a majority of these votes was needed to elect a candidate president.
In the nation’s first presidential election, in 1789, George Washington was unanimously elected, and John Adams–his unofficial running mate–came in second in electoral votes, making him vice president. Both men were conservative and favored a strong federal government as established by the Constitution. To balance his Cabinet with a liberal, and thus maintain the widest possible support for the new American government, Washington chose Thomas Jefferson–the idealistic drafter of the Declaration of Independence–as secretary of state.
During Washington’s first administration, Jefferson often came into conflict with Alexander Hamilton, the secretary of the treasury. Jefferson objected to Hamilton’s efforts to strengthen the national government at the expense of the states, and the two men also differed significantly on foreign policy, with Hamilton advocating improved relations with conservative England and Jefferson calling for closer ties with Revolutionary France. Although Washington detested the factional fighting, the disagreements gave rise to the nation’s first political parties: Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans (the forerunner of the Democratic Party) and Hamilton’s Federalists.
In 1792, Washington was unanimously re-elected president, and Adams was re-elected vice president. Jefferson, his relations with Hamilton greatly deteriorated, resigned as secretary of state in 1793.
In 1796, Jefferson ran for president as the candidate of the Democratic-Republicans, and Adams, as the Federalist candidate. When the results of the election were tallied, it became clear that the nation’s forefathers had failed to properly anticipate the rise of political parties. Adams won the election with 71 votes, but his Federalist running mate, Thomas Pinckney, received only 59 votes, nine less than Thomas Jefferson, who was elected vice president. Jefferson’s running mate, Senator Aaron Burr of New York, received only 30 votes.
In the election of 1800, Jefferson and Burr again took on Adams and Pinckney. By this time, America’s political tide was sweeping away from the conservative Federalists to Jefferson’s more democratic party. In addition, Adams was hampered in his re-election bid by Alexander Hamilton, who advocated the election of Pinckney as president and Adams as vice president. On November 4, the national election was held. When the electoral votes were counted, the Democratic-Federalists emerged with a decisive victory, with Jefferson and Burr each earning 73 votes to Adams’ 65 votes and Pinckney’s 64 votes. John Jay, the governor of New York, received 1 vote.
Because Jefferson and Burr had tied, the election went to the House of Representatives, which began voting on the issue on February 11, 1801. What at first seemed but an electoral technicality–handing Jefferson victory over his running mate–developed into a major constitutional crisis when Federalists in the lame-duck Congress threw their support behind Burr. Jefferson needed a majority of nine states to win, but in the first ballot had only eight states, with Burr winning six states and Maryland and Virginia. Finally, on February 17, a small group of Federalists reasoned that the peaceful transfer of power required that the majority party have its choice as president and voted in Jefferson’s favor. The 35th ballot gave Jefferson victory with 10 votes. Burr received four votes and two states voted blank.
Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated the third president of the United States on March 4. Three years later, the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, providing for the separate election of presidents and vice presidents, was ratified and adopted.
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* The Canadian Encyclopedia http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/92-resolutions/
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/
6 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 17th”
Can we get Papineau and Morin to come back and do another Ninety-Two Resolutions Demanding Responsible Government Madame Butterfly is a beautiful opera. Brian Wilson is another example of genius run amuck. So talented and such a waste.
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I agree on all points… how about one Resolution… Dump Trump. Thanks, good sir.
A few years ago, I saw the movie, Love & Mercy, about Brian Wilson. It was both heartbreaking and endearing. The geniuses of the world, those who see or hear what most of us do not, carry a heavy burden. Their extremes, though, forge a path that can alter our own experience of life. Amazing.
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Gee, I missed that movie – I’ll have to check it out – thanks, Gwen!
Very interesting post, John. I have never seen Madame Butterfly but it sounds wonderful.
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I’ve always made a point of avoiding operas – not my cup of tea. I’m a bit weird – that’s right up there with my aversion to fish and seafood. Thanks, Robbie!
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