The Education of Henry Adams is an autobiography that records the struggle of Bostonian Henry Adams (1838–1918), in his later years, to come to terms with the dawning 20th century, so different from the world of his youth. It is also a sharp critique of 19th-century educational theory and practice. In 1907, Adams began privately circulating copies of a limited edition printed at his own expense. Commercial publication of the book had to await its author’s 1918 death, whereupon it won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize. The Modern Library placed it first in a list of the top 100 English-language nonfiction books of the 20th century.
Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation is an 1844 work of speculative natural history and philosophy by Robert Chambers. Published anonymously in England, it brought together various ideas of stellar evolution with the progressive transmutation of species in an accessible narrative which tied together numerous scientific theories of the age.
Vestiges was initially well received by polite Victorian society and became an international bestseller, but its unorthodox themes contradicted the natural theology fashionable at the time and were reviled by clergymen – and subsequently by scientists who readily found fault with its amateurish deficiencies. The ideas in the book were favoured by Radicals, but its presentation remained popular with a much wider public. Prince Albert read it aloud to Queen Victoria in 1845. Vestiges caused a shift in popular opinion which – Charles Darwin believed – prepared the public mind for the scientific theories of evolution by natural selection which followed from the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859.
For decades there was speculation about its authorship. The 12th edition, published in 1884, revealed officially that the author was Robert Chambers, a Scottish journalist, who had written the book in St Andrews between 1841 and 1844 while recovering from a psychiatric illness. Initially, Chambers had proposed the title The Natural History of Creation, but he was persuaded to revise the title in deference to the Scottish geologist James Hutton, who had remarked of the timeless aspect of geology: “no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end”. Some of the inspiration for the work derived from the Edinburgh Phrenological Society whose materialist influence reached a climax between 1825 and 1840. George Combe, the leading proponent of phrenological thinking, had published his influential The Constitution of Man in 1828. Chambers was closely involved with Combe’s associates William A.F. Browne and Hewett Cottrell Watson who did much to spell out the materialist theory of the mind. Chambers died in 1871 and is buried in the grounds of St Andrews Cathedral, within the ancient chapel of St Regulus.
The scientist John William Draper and the writer Andrew Dickson White were the most influential exponents of the Conflict Thesis between religion and science. In the early 1870s, Draper was invited to write a History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874), a book replying to contemporary issues in Roman Catholicism, such as the doctrine of papal infallibility, and mostly criticising what he claimed to be anti-intellectualism in the Catholic tradition, yet assessing that Islam and Protestantism had little conflict with science.
Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965), one of the twentieth century’s major poets, was also an essayist, publisher, playwright, and literary and social critic. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States, to a prominent Boston Brahmin family, he moved to England in 1914 at the age of 25, settling, working, and marrying there. He became a British subject in 1927 at the age of 39, renouncing his American passport.
Eliot attracted widespread attention for his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), which was seen as a masterpiece of the Modernist movement. It was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including The Waste Land (1922), “The Hollow Men” (1925), “Ash Wednesday” (1930), and Four Quartets (1943). He was also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and The Cocktail Party (1949). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 for his outstanding pioneer contribution to present-day poetry.
The Diary of a Young Girl, also known as The Diary of Anne Frank, is a book of the writings from the Dutch language diary kept by Anne Frank while she was in hiding for two years with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The family was apprehended in 1944, and Anne Frank died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. The diary was retrieved by Miep Gies, who gave it to Anne’s father, Otto Frank, the family’s only known survivor, just after the war was over. The diary has since been published in more than 60 languages.
First published under the title Het Achterhuis. Dagboekbrieven 14 Juni 1942 – 1 Augustus 1944 (The Annex: Diary Notes 14 June 1942 – 1 August 1944) by Contact Publishing in Amsterdam in 1947, the diary received widespread critical and popular attention on the appearance of its English language translation Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Doubleday & Company (United States) and Vallentine Mitchell (United Kingdom) in 1952. Its popularity inspired the 1955 play The Diary of Anne Frank by the screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, which they adapted for the screen for the 1959 movie version. The book is included in several lists of the top books of the 20th century.
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a six-volume work by the English historian Edward Gibbon. It traces Western civilization (as well as the Islamic and Mongolian conquests) from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium. Volume I was published in 1776 and went through six printings. Volumes II and III were published in 1781; volumes IV, V, and VI in 1788–1789.
The six volumes cover the history, from 98 to 1590, of the Roman Empire, the history of early Christianity and then of the Roman State Church, and the history of Europe, and discusses the decline of the Roman Empire among other things. Gibbon’s work remains a great literary achievement and a very readable introduction to the period, but considerable progress has since been made in history and archaeology, and his interpretations no longer represent current academic knowledge or thought.
A Little History of the World is a history book by Ernst Gombrich. It was written in 1935 in Vienna, Austria, when Gombrich was 26 years old. He was rewriting it for English readers when he died in 2001, at 92, in London. Gombrich insisted that only he translate the book into English. After his death, the translation was completed by Caroline Mustill, an assistant to Gombrich from 1995 until his death, and his granddaughter Leonie Gombrich. It was published in 2005 by Yale University Press.
The Histories of Herodotus is considered the founding work of history in Western literature. Written in 440 BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that were known in Western Asia, Northern Africa and Greece at that time. Although not a fully impartial record, it remains one of the West’s most important sources regarding these affairs. Moreover, it established the genre and study of history in the Western world (despite the existence of historical records and chronicles beforehand).
The Histories also stands as one of the first accounts of the rise of the Persian Empire, as well as the events and causes of the Greco-Persian Wars between the Achaemenid Empire and the Greek city-states in the 5th century BC. Herodotus portrays the conflict as one between the forces of slavery (the Persians) on the one hand, and freedom (the Athenians and the confederacy of Greek city-states which united against the invaders) on the other.
A History of Christianity is a 1976 study of the history of Christianity by the British historian Paul Johnson. The author aims to present a comprehensive factual history of the Christian religion. The book includes a prologue, eight parts, an epilogue, a select bibliography, and an index.
In the Prologue, Johnson writes: “During these two millennia Christianity has, perhaps, proved more influential in shaping human destiny than any other institutional philosophy, but there are now signs that its period of predominance is drawing to a close, thereby inviting a retrospect and a balance sheet… Christianity is essentially a historical religion. It bases its claims on the historical facts it asserts. If these are demolished it is nothing… A Christian with faith has nothing to fear from the facts.”
“I Have a Dream” is a public speech that was delivered by American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, in which he called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the United States. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the speech was a defining moment of the civil rights movement.
Beginning with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed millions of slaves in 1863, King said: “One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free”. Toward the end of the speech, King departed from his prepared text for a partly improvised peroration on the theme “I have a dream”, prompted by Mahalia Jackson’s cry: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” In this part of the speech, which most excited the listeners and has now become its most famous, King described his dreams of freedom and equality arising from a land of slavery and hatred. Jon Meacham writes that, “With a single phrase, Martin Luther King Jr. joined Jefferson and Lincoln in the ranks of men who’ve shaped modern America”. The speech was ranked the top American speech of the 20th century in a 1999 poll of scholars of public address.
Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is a biography of the Greek philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius, written in Greek, perhaps in the first half of the third century AD. The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers professes to give an account of the lives and sayings of the Greek philosophers. The work doesn’t have an exact title in the manuscripts and appears in various lengthy forms.
Although it is at best an uncritical and unphilosophical compilation, its value, as giving us an insight into the private lives of the Greek sages, led Montaigne to write that he wished that instead of one Laërtius there had been a dozen. On the other hand, modern scholars have advised that we treat Diogenes’ testimonia with care, especially when he fails to cite his sources: “Diogenes has acquired an importance out of all proportion to his merits because the loss of many primary sources and of the earlier secondary compilations has accidentally left him the chief continuous source for the history of Greek philosophy”.
Titus Livius Patavinus (64 or 59 BC – 12 or 17 AD) – often rendered as Titus Livy, or simply Livy, in English language sources – was a Roman historian. He wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people – Ab Urbe Condita Libri (Books from the Foundation of the City) – covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional foundation in 753 BC through the reign of Augustus in Livy’s own lifetime. He was on familiar terms with members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, advising Augustus’s grandnephew, the future emperor Claudius, as a young man not long before 14 AD in a letter to take up the writing of history.
Livy’s only surviving work is the History of Rome, which was his career from his mid-life, probably 32, until he left Rome for Padua in old age, probably in the reign of Tiberius after the death of Augustus. When he began this work he was already past his youth; presumably, events in his life prior to that time had led to his intense activity as a historian. Seneca the Younger gives brief mention that he was also known as an orator and philosopher and had written some treatises in those fields from a historical point of view.
The book An Essay on the Principle of Population was first published anonymously in 1798, but the author was soon identified as Thomas Robert Malthus. The book predicted a grim future, as population would increase geometrically, doubling every 25 years, but food production would only grow arithmetically, which would result in famine and starvation unless births were controlled.
While it was not the first book on population, it was revised for over 28 years and has been acknowledged as the most influential work of its era. Malthus’s book fuelled debate about the size of the population in the Kingdom of Great Britain and contributed to the passing of the Census Act 1800. This Act enabled the holding of a national census in England, Wales and Scotland, starting in 1801 and continuing every ten years to the present. The book’s 6th edition (1826) was independently cited as a key influence by both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in developing the theory of natural selection.
A key portion of the book was dedicated to what is now known as Malthus’ Iron Law of Population. This name itself is retrospective, based on the iron law of wages, which is the reformulation of Malthus’ position by Ferdinand Lassalle, who in turn derived the name from Goethe’s “great, eternal iron laws” in Das Göttliche. This theory suggested that growing population rates would contribute to a rising supply of labour that would inevitably lower wages. In essence, Malthus feared that continued population growth would lend itself to poverty and famine.
In 1803, Malthus published, under the same title, a heavily revised second edition of his work. His final version, the 6th edition, was published in 1826. In 1830, 32 years after the first edition, Malthus published a condensed version entitled A Summary View on the Principle of Population, which included responses to criticisms of the larger work.
The Life and Times of Martin Luther has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact and remains as true to the original work as possible. Scholars believe that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public.
This free PDF textbook presents Jack E. Maxfield’s A Comprehensive Outline of World History as originally organized, chronologically by era and across regions within an era. Each chapter covers a period of historical time (e.g. a century).
A History of Western Philosophy is a 1945 book by philosopher Bertrand Russell. A survey of Western philosophy from the pre-Socratic philosophers to the early 20th century, it was criticised for Russell’s over-generalization and omissions, particularly from the post-Cartesian period, but nevertheless became a popular and commercial success, and has remained in print from its first publication. When Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, A History of Western Philosophy was cited as one of the books that won him the award. Its success provided Russell with financial security for the last part of his life.
The Decline of the West, or The Downfall of the Occident, is a two-volume work by Oswald Spengler, the first volume of which was published in the summer of 1918. Spengler revised this volume in 1922 and published the second volume, subtitled Perspectives of World History, in 1923.
Spengler introduces his book as a “Copernican overturning” involving the rejection of the Eurocentric view of history, especially the division of history into the linear “ancient-medieval-modern” rubric. According to Spengler, the meaningful units for history are not epochs but whole cultures which evolve as organisms. He recognizes at least eight high cultures: Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Mesoamerican (Mayan/Aztec), Classical (Greek/Roman), Arabian, and Western or “European-American”. Cultures have a lifespan of about a thousand years of flourishing, and a thousand years of decline. The final stage of each culture is, in his word use, a “civilization”.
Spengler also presents the idea of Muslims, Jews and Christians, as well as their Persian and Semitic forebears, being ‘Magian’; Mediterranean cultures of the antiquity such as Ancient Greece and Rome being ‘Apollonian’; and the modern Westerners being ‘Faustian’.
According to Spengler, the Western world is ending and we are witnessing the last season—”winter time”—of Faustian Civilization. In Spengler’s depiction, Western Man is a proud but tragic figure because, while he strives and creates, he secretly knows the actual goal will never be reached.
The Annals by Roman historian and senator Tacitus is a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero, the years AD 14–68. The Annals are an important source for modern understanding of the history of the Roman Empire during the 1st century AD; it is Tacitus’ final work, and modern historians generally consider it his greatest writing. Historian Ronald Mellor calls it “Tacitus’s crowning achievement,” which represents the “pinnacle of Roman historical writing”.
Tacitus’ Histories and Annals together amounted to 30 books; although some scholars disagree about which work to assign some books to, traditionally 14 are assigned to Histories and 16 to Annals. Of the 30 books referred to by Jerome, about half have survived.
Modern scholars believe that as a Roman senator, Tacitus had access to Acta Senatus—the Roman senate’s records—which provided a solid basis for his work. Although Tacitus refers to part of his work as “my annals”, the title of the work Annals used today was not assigned by Tacitus himself, but derives from its year-by-year structure. The name of the current manuscript seems to be “Books of History from the Death of the Divine Augustus“.
Richard Henry “R. H.” Tawney (1880 – 1962) was an English economic historian, social critic, ethical socialist, Christian socialist, and an important proponent of adult education. The Oxford Companion to British History (1997) explained that Tawney made a “significant impact” in all four of these “interrelated roles”. A. L. Rowse goes further by insisting that “Tawney exercised the widest influence of any historian of his time, politically, socially and, above all, educationally”.
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926) was his classic work and made his reputation as a historian. It explored the relationship between Protestantism and economic development in the 16th and 17th centuries. Tawney bemoaned the division between commerce and social morality brought about by the Protestant Reformation, leading as it did to the subordination of Christian teaching to the pursuit of material wealth.
The History of the Peloponnesian War is a historical account of the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), which was fought between the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta) and the Delian League (led by Athens). It was written by Thucydides, an Athenian historian who also happened to serve as an Athenian general during the war. His account of the conflict is widely considered to be a classic and regarded as one of the earliest scholarly works of history.
Analyses of the History generally occur in one of two camps. On the one hand, some scholars view the work as an objective and scientific piece of history. The judgment of J. B. Bury reflects his traditional interpretation of the work: “The History is severe in its detachment, written from a purely intellectual point of view, unencumbered with platitudes and moral judgments, cold and critical.”
On the other hand, in keeping with more recent interpretations that are associated with reader-response criticism, the History can be read as a piece of literature rather than an objective record of the historical events. This view is embodied in the words of W. R. Connor, who describes Thucydides as “an artist who responds to, selects and skillfully arranges his material, and develops its symbolic and emotional potential.”
A Study of History is a 12-volume universal history by the British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, published in 1934–61. It received enormous popular attention but according to historian Richard J. Evans, “enjoyed only a brief vogue before disappearing into the obscurity in which it has languished.” Toynbee’s goal was to trace the development and decay of 19 world civilizations in the historical record, applying his model to each of these civilizations, detailing the stages through which they all pass: genesis, growth, time of troubles, universal state, and disintegration.
The 19 major civilizations, as Toynbee sees them, are: Egyptian, Andean, Sinic, Minoan, Sumerian, Mayan, Indic, Hittite, Hellenic, Western, Orthodox Christian (Russia), Far Eastern, Orthodox Christian (main body), Persian, Arabic, Hindu, Mexican, Yucatec, and Babylonic. There are four “abortive civilizations” (Abortive Far Western Christian, Abortive Far Eastern Christian, Abortive Scandinavian, Abortive Syriac) and five “arrested civilizations” (Polynesian, Eskimo, Nomadic, Ottoman, Spartan), for a total of 28.
James Ussher (1581 – 1656) was the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland between 1625 and 1656. He was a prolific scholar and church leader, who today is most famous for his identification of the genuine letters of the church father, Ignatius, and for his chronology that sought to establish the time and date of the creation of the universe as “the entrance of the night preceding the 23rd day of October… the year before Christ 4004”; that is, around 6 pm on 22 October 4004 BC according to the proleptic Julian calendar.
The Ussher chronology is a 17th-century chronology of the history of the world formulated from a literal reading of the Old Testament by James Ussher. The chronology is sometimes associated with young Earth creationism, which holds that the Universe was created only a few millennia ago by God as described in the first two chapters of the biblical book of Genesis. Ussher fell into disrepute in the 19th century.
Published in 1650, the full title of Ussher’s work in Latin is Annales Veteris Testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti, una cum rerum Asiaticarum et Aegyptiacarum chronico, a temporis historici principio usque ad Maccabaicorum initia producto (“Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world, the chronicle of Asiatic and Egyptian matters together produced from the beginning of historical time up to the beginnings of Maccabees“). Ussher’s work was his contribution to the long-running theological debate on the age of the Earth. This has been a major concern of many Christian scholars over the centuries.
A Short History of the World is a period-piece non-fictional historic work by English author H. G. Wells first published by Cassell & Co, Ltd Publishing in 1922. The book was largely inspired by Wells’s earlier 1919 work The Outline of History.
The book is 344 pages in total, summarising the scientific knowledge of the time regarding the history of Earth and life. It starts with its origins, goes on to explain the development of the Earth and life on Earth, reaching primitive thought and the development of humankind from the Cradle of Civilisation. The book ends with the outcome of the First World War, the Russian famine of 1921, and the League of Nations in 1922. In 1934 Albert Einstein recommended the book for the study of history as a means of interpreting progress in civilisation.
A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom was published in two volumes by Andrew Dickson White, a founder of Cornell University, in 1896. In the introduction White states the original goal of his 1874 lecture on The Battlefields of Science and elaborated in a book The Warfare of Science the same year:
“In all modern history, interference with science in the supposed interest of religion, no matter how conscientious such interference may have been, has resulted in the direst evils both to religion and to science, and invariably; and, on the other hand, all untrammelled scientific investigation, no matter how dangerous to religion some of its stages may have seemed for the time to be, has invariably resulted in the highest good both of religion and of science.”
In these volumes, White chronicles the gradual emancipation of science from theology in various fields.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965, the result of a collaboration between human rights activist Malcolm X and journalist Alex Haley. Haley coauthored the autobiography based on a series of in-depth interviews he conducted between 1963 and Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination. The Autobiography is a spiritual conversion narrative that outlines Malcolm X’s philosophy of black pride, black nationalism, and pan-Africanism. After the leader was killed, Haley wrote the book’s epilogue. He described their collaborative process and the events at the end of Malcolm X’s life.
While Malcolm X and scholars contemporary to the book’s publication regarded Haley as the book’s ghostwriter, modern scholars tend to regard him as an essential collaborator. They say he intentionally muted his authorial voice to create the effect of Malcolm X speaking directly to readers. Haley influenced some of Malcolm X’s literary choices. For example, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam during the period when he was working on the book with Haley. Rather than rewriting earlier chapters as a polemic against the Nation which Malcolm X had rejected, Haley persuaded him to favor a style of “suspense and drama”. According to Manning Marable, “Haley was particularly worried about what he viewed as Malcolm X’s anti-Semitism” and he rewrote material to eliminate it.
When the Autobiography was published, The New York Times reviewer described it as a “brilliant, painful, important book”. In 1967, historian John William Ward wrote that it would become a classic American autobiography. In 1998, Time named The Autobiography of Malcolm X as one of ten “required reading” nonfiction books. James Baldwin and Arnold Perl adapted the book as a film; their screenplay provided the source material for Spike Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X.
IMPORTANT HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS
The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian code of law of ancient Mesopotamia, dated back to about 1754 BCE (Middle Chronology). It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. The sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi, enacted the code. A partial copy exists on a 2.25 metre (7.5 ft) stone stele. It consists of 282 laws, with scaled punishments, adjusting “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (lex talionis) as graded depending on social status, of slave versus free, man or woman.
Nearly half of the code deals with matters of contract, establishing the wages to be paid to an ox driver or a surgeon for example. Other provisions set the terms of a transaction, the liability of a builder for a house that collapses, or property that is damaged while left in the care of another. A third of the code addresses issues concerning household and family relationships such as inheritance, divorce, paternity, and reproductive behaviour. Only one provision appears to impose obligations on an official; this provision establishes that a judge who alters his decision after it is written down is to be fined and removed from the bench permanently. A few provisions address issues related to military service.
The code was discovered by modern archaeologists in 1901, and its editio princeps translation published in 1902 by Jean-Vincent Scheil. This nearly complete example of the code is carved into a basalt stele in the shape of a huge index finger. The code is inscribed in the Akkadian language, using cuneiform script carved into the stele.
It is currently on display in the Louvre, with replicas in numerous institutions, including the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago, the Clendening History of Medicine Library & Museum at the University of Kansas Medical Center, the library of the Theological University of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, the Pergamon Museum of Berlin, the Arts Faculty of the University of Leuven in Belgium, the National Museum of Iran in Tehran, and the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania, and Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.
Magna Carta Libertatum (Medieval Latin for “the Great Charter of the Liberties“), commonly called Magna Carta (also Magna Charta; “Great Charter“), is a charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, on 15 June 1215. First drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons. Neither side stood behind their commitments, and the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, leading to the First Barons’ War. After John’s death, the regency government of his young son, Henry III, reissued the document in 1216, stripped of some of its more radical content, in an unsuccessful bid to build political support for their cause. At the end of the war in 1217, it formed part of the peace treaty agreed at Lambeth, where the document acquired the name Magna Carta, to distinguish it from the smaller Charter of the Forest which was issued at the same time. Short of funds, Henry reissued the charter again in 1225 in exchange for a grant of new taxes. His son, Edward I, repeated the exercise in 1297, this time confirming it as part of England’s statute law.
The charter became part of English political life and was typically renewed by each monarch in turn, although as time went by and the fledgling English Parliament passed new laws, it lost some of its practical significance. At the end of the 16th century, there was an upsurge in interest in Magna Carta. Lawyers and historians at the time believed that there was an ancient English constitution, going back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons, that protected individual English freedoms. They argued that the Norman invasion of 1066 had overthrown these rights and that Magna Carta had been a popular attempt to restore them, making the charter an essential foundation for the contemporary powers of Parliament and legal principles such as habeas corpus. Although this historical account was badly flawed, jurists such as Sir Edward Coke used Magna Carta extensively in the early 17th century, arguing against the divine right of kings propounded by the Stuart monarchs. Both James I and his son Charles I attempted to suppress the discussion of Magna Carta, until the issue was curtailed by the English Civil War of the 1640s and the execution of Charles.
The political myth of Magna Carta and its protection of ancient personal liberties persisted after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 until well into the 19th century. It influenced the early American colonists in the Thirteen Colonies and the formation of the American Constitution in 1787, which became the supreme law of the land in the new republic of the United States. Research by Victorian historians showed that the original 1215 charter had concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people, but the charter remained a powerful, iconic document, even after almost all of its content was repealed from the statute books in the 19th and 20th centuries. Magna Carta still forms an important symbol of liberty today, often cited by politicians and campaigners, and is held in great respect by the British and American legal communities, Lord Denning describing it as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”.
In the 21st century, four exemplifications of the original 1215 charter remain in existence, two at the British Library, one at Lincoln Cathedral and one at Salisbury Cathedral. There are also a handful of the subsequent charters in public and private ownership, including copies of the 1297 charter in both the United States and Australia. The original charters were written on parchment sheets using quill pens, in heavily abbreviated medieval Latin, which was the convention for legal documents at that time. Each was sealed with the royal great seal (made of beeswax and resin sealing wax): very few of the seals have survived. Although scholars refer to the 63 numbered “clauses” of Magna Carta, this is a modern system of numbering, introduced by Sir William Blackstone in 1759; the original charter formed a single, long unbroken text. The four original 1215 charters were displayed together at the British Library for one day, 3 February 2015, to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
It changed the federal legal status of more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans in the designated areas of the South from slave to free. As soon as a slave escaped the control of the Confederate government, by running away or through advances of federal troops, the former slave became free. Ultimately, the rebel surrender liberated and resulted in the proclamation’s application to all of the designated former slaves. It did not cover slaves in Union areas that were freed by state action (or three years later by the 13th amendment in December 1865). It was issued as a war measure during the American Civil War, directed to all of the areas in rebellion and all segments of the executive branch (including the Army and Navy) of the United States.
The Treaty of Versailles was the most important of the peace treaties that brought World War I to an end. The Treaty ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which had directly led to World War I. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I signed separate treaties. Although the armistice, signed on 11 November 1918, ended the actual fighting, it took six months of Allied negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21 October 1919.
Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required “Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war (the other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles). This article, Article 231, later became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty required Germany to disarm, make ample territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion marks (then $31.4 billion or £6.6 billion, roughly equivalent to US $442 billion or UK £284 billion in 2019). At the time economists, notably John Maynard Keynes (a British delegate to the Paris Peace Conference), predicted that the treaty was too harsh—a “Carthaginian peace”—and said the reparations figure was excessive and counter-productive, views that, since then, have been the subject of ongoing debate by historians and economists from several countries. On the other hand, prominent figures on the Allied side such as French Marshal Ferdinand Foch criticized the treaty for treating Germany too leniently.
The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left no one content: Germany was neither pacified nor conciliated, nor was it permanently weakened. The problems that arose from the treaty would lead to the Locarno Treaties, which improved relations between Germany and the other European powers, and the re-negotiation of the reparation system resulting in the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the indefinite postponement of reparations at the Lausanne Conference of 1932.
Although it is often referred to as the “Versailles Conference”, only the actual signing of the treaty took place at the historic palace. Most of the negotiations were in Paris, with the “Big Four” meetings taking place generally at the Quai d’Orsay.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a historic document that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at its third session on 10 December 1948 as Resolution 217 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France. Of the then 58 members of the United Nations, 48 voted in favor, none against, eight abstained, and two did not vote.
The Declaration consists of 30 articles affirming an individual’s rights which, although not legally binding in themselves, have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, economic transfers, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions, and other laws. The Declaration was the first step in the process of formulating the International Bill of Human Rights, which was completed in 1966, and came into force in 1976 after a sufficient number of countries had ratified them.
Some legal scholars have argued that because countries have constantly invoked the Declaration for more than 50 years, it has become binding as a part of customary international law. However, in the United States, the Supreme Court in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain (2004), concluded that the Declaration “does not of its own force impose obligations as a matter of international law.” Courts of other countries have also concluded that the Declaration is not in and of itself part of domestic law.
The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance, starting in the year 2020. The agreement’s language was negotiated by representatives of 196 state parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Le Bourget, near Paris, France, and adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015. As of November 2018, 195 UNFCCC members have signed the agreement, and 184 have become party to it. The Paris Agreement’s long-term goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels; and to limit the increase to 1.5 °C, since this would substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change.
Under the Paris Agreement, each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming. No mechanism forces a country to set a specific target by a specific date, but each target should go beyond previously set targets. In June 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw his country from the agreement. Under the agreement, the earliest effective date of withdrawal for the U.S. is November 2020, shortly before the end of President Trump’s current term. In practice, changes in United States policy that are contrary to the Paris Agreement have already been put in place.
In July 2017 French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot announced a plan to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles in France by 2040 as part of the Paris Agreement. Hulot also stated that France would no longer use coal to produce electricity after 2022 and that up to €4 billion will be invested in boosting energy efficiency. To reach the agreement’s emission targets, Norway will ban the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered cars by 2025; the Netherlands will do the same by 2030. Electric trains running on the Dutch national rail network are already entirely powered by wind energy. The House of Representatives of the Netherlands passed a bill in June 2018 mandating that by 2050 the Netherlands will cut its 1990 greenhouse-gas emissions level by 95%—exceeding the Paris Agreement goals.