Tag Archives: democracy

Tennis Court Oath

The Estates General, Tennis Court Oath and National Assembly

Overview of the Reichstag Fire and its consequences

On the 27th February 1933, the Reichstag building in Berlin was set on fire in an arson attack. Generally accepted to have been conducted by Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe, the fire provided the new Chancellor Adolf Hitler with an opportunity to consolidate Nazi control of the German government.

Hitler had been appointed Chancellor on the 30th January, but had demanded new elections for the Reichstag. These were scheduled to take place on the 5th March, and Hitler hoped to increase the Nazi’s share of the seats in order to pass the Enabling Act and take control of political decisions for himself.

Shortly after 9pm on the evening of the 27th February, Goebbels was informed that the Reichstag was on fire. Although the blaze was extinguished before midnight, the inside of the building was destroyed. Communists were declared responsible, and van der Lubbe was arrested.

The day after the fire, Hitler persuaded President Hindenburg to pass the emergency Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State, which suspended many civil liberties and allowed the Nazis to arrest their opponents. Thousands of communists were rounded up by the SA, along with Social Democrats and liberals, and placed in so-called ‘protective custody’.

Van Der Lubbe was tried, convicted, and executed. Although there is debate over the exact circumstances of the fire, Sir Ian Kershaw says there is consensus among the vast majority of historians that he did set the fire. Whatever the circumstances, the situation was certainly exploited by the Nazis and was the first step in the creation of a single-party state.

Overview of Emily Davison being hit by a racehorse at Epson Derby

On the 4th June 1913, suffragette Emily Wilding Davison was hit by King George V’s racehorse at the Epsom Derby after she stepped onto the track. She died four days later from a fractured skull and other internal injuries.

Davison joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1906, and soon began to take part in their militant and confrontational activities that were designed to win the right to vote for women. She quickly developed a reputation as a particularly violent campaigner, and was imprisoned nine times for various illegal activities. During her prison sentences she went on hunger strike, and so was subjected to force-feeding by the prison authorities.

The Epson Derby is a highlight of the British horseracing calendar, and historians agree that Davison wanted to use the event to draw attention to the women’s suffrage movement. Newsreel footage of the event showed Davison ducking under the barrier and running onto the track as the horses began to race past her. She tried to grab the bridle of one of the last horses – which happened to be the King’s horse, Anmer – but was thrown to the ground by the force of the horse and trampled by its hooves.

Most people hold the view that Davison did not intend to martyr herself, but rather to attach a Votes For Women scarf to the horse. Various pieces of evidence support this view, including the return portion of a train ticket found in her purse. However, she did not share her plan with anyone so her true intentions will never be known.