On this date in 1871, Gaston Cremieux was shot at Marseilles for his role in that city’s lately-destroyed Commune.
Cremieux (French Wikipedia page: most external links in this post are also in French) was a gifted young lawyer with a social conscience who was known for taking on indigent-defense cases and working-class causes.
Given his prominence in radical circles, Cremieux was naturally thrust into leadership when word of the Paris Commune brought Marseilles, too, into a popular rising.
Lissagaray called Cremieux “an elegant and effeminate speaker … a mild enthusiast, who beheld the revolution under rather a bucolic aspect.” His admirable principles were not those of bloody revolutionary will, and he was accordingly viewed (or disdained) as a moderate.
The Marseilles Commune lasted only a fortnight: neighboring towns did not rally to it, and elsewhere in the south Toulouse and Narbonne communards were crushed within days.
When troops of the bourgeois Versailles government — the city to which it had fled from Paris — took Marseilles, according to Lissagaray, they “arrested at random, and dragged their victims into the lamp-stores of the station. There an officer scrutinized the prisoners, made a sign to one or the other of them to step out, and blew out his brains. The following days there were rumours of summary executions in the barracks, the forts and the prisons. The number of dead the people lost is unknown, but it exceeded 150.”
Cremieux’s own conscience was pretty clean in all this — he’d even advocated against keeping hostages. (Unsuccessfully, but Marseilles did not kill its hostages, unlike Parks.) “Show me those whom Cremieux has shot,” his lawyer would later protest to the military tribunal called to try him.
Cremieux’s own shooting would have to suffice. He died crying “Vive la République!” as the firing squad emptied its barrels into his torso … as per Cremieux’s request to preserve his face lest his parents be too shaken by his corpse. Just call him a family man.
On this date in 1868, Italian revolutionaries Giuseppe Monti and Gaetano Tognetti were guillotined in Rome.
Theirs was a passion of the Risorgimento, the 19th century drive to unify as a single nation the peninsula’s quiltwork of minor kingdoms, duchies, and city-states.
Following the Third Italian War of Independence, this had largely been accomplished … with the notable exception of the Papal States surrounding Rome. You can hardly have Italy without the Eternal City.
Inside Rome, Monti and Tognetti prepared a little morte of their own. Intending to mount a fifth-column uprising to coincide with the arrival of Garibaldi’s army, the two detonated a couple barrels of gunpowder under the Serristori barracks, killing 23 French zouaves and four Roman civilians. (All links in this paragraph are Italian.)
Unfortunately for the bombers, no general rising ensued, and the Papal and French armies subsequently repulsed Garibaldi at the Battle of Mentana on Nov. 3, 1867 — extending the papal enclave’s lease on life only slightly, but just enough to deal with Monti and Tognetti.
Their fate at the hands of the civil and religious authorities (one and the same, at this time), is dramatized in the 1977 Italian film In Nome Del Pap Re. (This Google books freebie purports to relate their final days.)
The 29-year-old mother of three was beheaded for her refusal to renounce the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong. She was technically Mao’s second wife; a previous marriage had been arranged for Mao by his parents, but he and the woman never lived together and the marriage was never consummated.
Yang and Mao grew up together in Changhsa — she was the daughter of one of his teachers — and fell in love as young adults. Yang, like Mao, was an enthusiastic Communist. She joined the CCP in 1921, becoming one of its earliest members. She never held any official position in the CCP, however, and wasn’t terribly active in the movement, since she had to raise the children.
Mao and Yang truly loved one another. Phillip Short, in his biography of Mao, writes of this period: “Perhaps for the only time in Mao’s life, he had a truly happy family to come home to … It was a surprisingly traditional Chinese household.”
But Mao became more and more absorbed in revolutionary work, and he and Yang were often separated when he traveled. The last time she saw her husband was in 1927, the year the Chinese Civil War started and Mao became a guerrilla leader, hiding in the mountains, far from his family. They maintained sporadic contact after that, but often what little she knew about his activities came from the papers.
During the final years of her life, Yang missed her husband desperately and had thoughts of suicide. “No matter how hard I try,” she wrote once, “I cannot stop loving him.”
Yang predicted she might meet with a violent death. She was right: on October 24, 1930, a warlord loyal to the nationalists captured her and one of her sons.
She did not break under threats and torture, and refused to give in and publicly repudiate her husband and Communism, even though her captors offered to spare her life if she did so. She became one of the CCP’s earliest martyrs.
Yang was executed more for being Mao’s wife than she was for anything she’d done herself. She wasn’t the only woman who would be killed for being married to a prominent member of the CCP; the wife of Zhu De had met with the same fate in 1929.
Mao, who had always called Yang his true love, was reportedly devastated by her death and wrote, “the death of Kaihui cannot be redeemed by a hundred deaths of mine!” He wrote a poem about her in 1957 that suggests he still grieved for her even then. But it must be noted that he never tried to rescue her or his sons when he knew their home had turned into a battleground and their lives were in danger.
Propaganda poster of Yang and Mao.
Tragedy followed the lives of Yang and Mao’s three sons.
The youngest boy, Anlong, died of dysentery in Shanghai at the age of four, soon after his mother’s execution. The oldest, Anying, was killed in the Korean War. Middle child Anqing lived to be 83, but perhaps as a consequence of watching his mother being put to death as a youth, he suffered bouts of mental illness throughout his life. He died quietly in China in 2007.
On this date in 1848, a day short of his forty-second birthday, the German revolutionist Robert Blum was summarily shot in Vienna — a tragic victim of Germany’s Revolutions of 1848.
Marker at Robert Blum’s birthplace in Cologne reads “I die for the German liberty that I fought for. May the fatherland remember me.” (cc) image from Elke Wetzig.
Blum grew up in a penniless proletarian family but drifted into the literary set. He spent the 1830s penning liberal-minded plays, poetry, newspaper correspondence. He uncovered a magnetic personality and a gift for organization.
By the 1840s he was a — maybe the — preeminent left-liberal in the Kingdom of Saxony: pro-parliamentary democracy, anti-violence, for a wide grant of civil liberties and mass education.
The pressures, both liberal and radical, pushed to the brink the small realms in the German Confederation, as well as the neighboring Austrian Empire. Both struggled to handle even the liberals’ demands like expanding the franchise and freedom of the press, with old hereditary polities that might not be up to changing times. Germany, Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto (1847), “is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution.”
Right on cue…
That pregnant year of 1848 found Blum in the Frankfurt parliament, and his neither-fish-nor-fowl leftism — a little too out there for mainstream liberals; a little too bourgeois for real radicals — made Blum the perfect pick for a solidarity mission.
When in September 1848 the Austrian army was defeated trying to crush a Hungarian rebellion, the Habsburg capital of Vienna took the example and mounted a revolution of its own, putting the government to flight.
Blum was sent as sympathetic delegate to this abortive Viennese commune, but found himself trapped in the city when the Austrian army encircled it in late October.
The Austrians, when they caught him, sent their own message back by denying him any form of deference for his parliamentary rank. Blum’s direct condemnation was a stark warning by the Habsburg state to agitators, but also to their putative brethren dreaming of a Greater Germany. Austria wasn’t buying what the Großdeutsche people were selling.
Detail view (click for the full image) of Carl Steffeck’s painting of Robert Blum’s execution. Here’s a YouTube recreation (in German).
Blum went on to a posthumous career as a star liberal martyr among the German circles who had use for such a character.
Blum’s seven-year-old son Hans grew up to follow his father’s literary footsteps … but from quite the other side of the aisle. He was a pro-Bismarck nationalist.
Claude-Francois de Malet (English Wikipedia entry | French) had spent the years of his confinement for republican sensibilities painstakingly readying bogus orders and decrees for the eventual rollout of the most audacious putsch you’d ever want to putsch.
While Bonaparte was off on campaign trashing Russia, Malet broke out of his sanitarium and went to work.
Donning a general’s uniform, Malet on Oct. 23, 1812 presented a forged announcement of the Emperor’s recent demise … and started issuing orders. He bluffed the release of imprisoned allies, and got a legitimate general to order the arrest of Napoleon’s most prominent deputies in Paris. (It’s a good job that general obeyed Malet, because when one officer asked to kindly see the arrest warrant Malet was using on him, Malet responded by shooting him in the face.)
For a few hours that morning the Malet conspirators almost put themselves in control, almost normalized their sudden rearrangement of authority with its reassuringly familiar official paperwork. Later, when interrogated for the identities of his accomplices, Malet would retort, “You, yourself, Sir, and all of France — if I had succeeded!”
But the attempted coup which aimed so high ultimately made for little but tantalizing counterfactual history. Officers with clearer heads soon realized that they had received communiques from the Emperor dated after his purported October 7 death; one of those officers arrested Malet.
A tribunal was constituted later that same date. It had little difficulty condemning 14 (French link) during the small hours of the morning on Oct. 29. They were shot later that same day (at least, most of them were; there are oddly conflicting accounts on this point). This public-domain French text preserves a first-person narration of the scene, in which Malet himself — usurping authority to the very last — commands the firing platoon that’s lined up to shoot his comrades.
120 bullets riddled these unfortunates, who fell all except Malet. He stood on his hands and knees and raised his hands to his chest as he was only wounded, and retreated to the wall on which he leaned:
While the Malet plot failed on its own terms, it got quite a lot farther than it had any right to expect — and this fact rightly alarmed the Corsican.
“Bad News From France”, by Vasily Vereshchagin, depicts a retreating Napoleon — bunking in an Orthodox church — finding out about Malet.
Was his position that precarious? And why, if some officers genuinely believed him dead, did nobody hail as emperor his infant son and designated heir?
Napoleon had already begun his catastrophic retreat from Russia when he got word of Malet’s attempted coup d’etat; the struggling Grande Armee was dwindling daily under the battering of cold, desertion, and Russian snipers. Now this?
Upon discovering his late narrow escape from a homefront conspiracy, Napoleon left his miserable troops under the command of Murat* and raced ahead of them back to Paris to secure his own position.
This new confluence of domestic vulnerability and foreign defeat marks the beginning of the end for Napoleon. Europe ganged up on the weakened French, and less than 18 months after Malet faced his executioners, France’s own generals forced Napoleon to abdicate.
On this date in 1865, Baptist deacon Paul Bogle was hanged at the Morant Bay courthouse for his part in that locale’s eponymous rebellion.
Third World’s “1865 (96 degrees in the shade)” celebrates Paul Bogle: “Today I stand here a victim the truth is I’ll never die”
Bogle helped lead of the protests-cum-riots that became that rebellion.
Baptists played an essential role in the affair, which has led some to call it the “Native Baptist War”. And indeed, Baptism had long intertwined with underclass resistance: Jamaica’s most famous slave rebel, Samuel Sharpe, was also a Baptist deacon. A previous royal governor in Jamaica had once warned that “the worst evil which hangs with a menacing aspect over the destinies of this island is the influence exercised with baneful effect by the majority of Baptist missionaries.”
From the standpoint of the powerful in Jamaica and Britain, 1865 would vindicate that warning.
Underhill’s letter got into public circulation and as a result there were a number of “Underhill meetings” perhaps comprising an “Underhill movement” on the island in 1865 — essentially a going social campaign that rooted deeply in Jamaica’s native Baptist communities. Though “native Baptists” is a vague term, it distinguishes not only black from white but, in the words of Mary Turner, a whole “proliferation of sects in which the slaves developed religious forms, more or less Christian in content that reflected their needs more closely than the orthodox churches, black or white.”
William Gordon had switched his religious allegiance to native Baptist and was known to speak at Underhill meetings: that’s part of what got him hanged.
Likewise, our day’s focus, Paul Bogle, was a native Baptist minister, in the St. Thomas-in-the-East parish — and it was the protest of Bogle and his supporters against an unjust prosecution that started the whole rebellion off.
Statue of a militant Paul Bogle (that’s a sword in his hands) outside the Morant Bay courthouse where all the trouble started. (cc) image from dubdem sound systems.
There was, accordingly, an immediate reward out on Bogle’s head, and an immediate demonization in the respectable English press. There, he was “the notorious Paul Bogle,” in the words of one letter to the editor (London Times, Nov. 18 1865), in whose Baptist chapel rebellious “panthers” wantonly “drank rum mixed with gunpowder and the brains of their victims.”
By the time that letter had been dispatched, Bogle’s purported orgies had long since been interrupted: captured by Maroons, he was delivered to custody, instantly tried, an hanged that very day in a batch of 18 rebels.
A horror to Victorian planters, Bogle has won the reverence of posterity as a freedom fighter and national hero.
Paul Bogle on the (now out-of-circulation) Jamaican two-dollar bill.
On the 21st a circumstance occurred which created much controversy. A reputed Obeah-man was tried by court-martial and convicted. One of the favourite assertions of these people has been that “Buckra can’t hurt them.” Colonel Hobbs directed him to be placed on a hill-side, about four hundred yards from the firing party. The bullets caused almost instantaneous death, and it is stated that the effect on the minds of the prisoners was so great, that the colonel felt at liberty to release a considerable number then in his camp, many of whom were heard to say they never would believe in Obeah again.
In 1865, British-controlled Jamaica faced an economically-driven revolt that altered its history.
Though slavery had been abolished in the British empire during the 1830s, emancipation had not come with land reform. Ex-slaves and their descendants remained desperately poor. Indeed, Britain’s near-simultaneous liberalization of the sugar trade had cratered prices for Jamaica’s top export — and with it, cratered most of the Caribbean economy.
To a petition early in 1865 for access to crown lands to relieve these dire conditions, Queen Victoria had extended a familiar classic of cruel and condescending economic catechism: shut up and work.
“The prosperity of the Labouring Classes, as well as of all other Classes,” quoth the piece that would be published as “The Queen’s Advice”,
depends, in Jamaica, and in other Countries, upon their working for Wages, not uncertainly, or capriciously, but steadily and continuously, at the times when their labour is wanted, and for so long as it is wanted; and if they would use his industry, and thereby render the Plantations productive, they would enable the Planters to pay them higher Wages for the same hours of work than are received by the best Field Labourers in this country; and as the cost of the necessaries of life is much less n Jamaica than it is here, they would be enabled, by adding prudence to industry, to lay by an ample provision for seasons of drought and dearth; and they may be assured, that it is from their own industry and prudence, in availing themselves of the means of prospering that are before them, and not from any such schemes as have been suggested to them, that the must look for an improvement in their condition; and that her Majesty will regard with interest and satisfaction their advancement through their own merits and efforts.
So your average Jamaican fieldhand’s “merits and efforts” became so much dry tinder accumulating, just waiting for the spark. (Note: Princeton has an album of photographs from this period here.)
In October 1865, flint struck steel with the prosecution of a poor black laborer for trespassing onto unused land.
The ensuing protest mushroomed into the Morant Bay rebellion: a scuffle with police, leading to proscriptions, leading to a more confrontational mob, an outnumbered and trigger-happy militia, and a full-fledged riot that seized the town of Morant Bay and proceeded to attack nearby plantations.
Dreadful reports, more terrifying for their scantiness and uncertainty, went abroad in those days, of “atrocities revolting to human nature.” That’s the New York Daily News, which ran a letter from Kingston, Jamaica, reporting “the whites who have fallen into the hands of these savages have been doomed to slaughter without distinction of age or sex. They tear out the tongues of their victims, cut off the breasts of women, strangle and mutilate little children.”*
Hundreds were put to death, either summarily in the field or after proceedings that would have wanted twice the deliberation to rise to the level of perfunctory. Hundreds more, including pregnant women, were flogged. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time without a demonstrable alibi ready to hand was liable to be worth a body’s life.
We note over the next five days two famous cases and three obscurities that may give a sense of how things were in those days — though Morant Bay depredations could in fact sustain several numbing weeks in these pages. For instance, a missive dated October 19 reports in passing the capture of “a number of prisoners from the rebel camp. Finding their guilt clear, and being unable either to take or leave them, I had them all shot. The constables then hung them upon trees, eleven in number.”
One officer** who showed excessive (read: any) exactitude for process was ordered in writing to emulate a comrade “doing splendid service … shooting every black man who cannot account for himself.”
Nelson at Port Antonio hanging like fun by court martial. I hope you will not send any black prisoners.
All this “fun” would put Governor Eyre in the eyre of a storm back in the home country.
These executions — but most especially that of colonial assemblyman George William Gordon — had little or no color of law, and spurred many English liberals to demand Eyre himself be prosecuted for murder. Nor was this merely an elite predilection: English working classes then in the midst of their own push for representation rallied in support of the Jamaicans, even burning Gov. Eyre in effigy. British Tories and propertied Jamaicans called Eyre a hero.
Ultimately, this furious “Eyre Controversy” proved insufficient to generate an actual criminal procedure against an agent of the empire, which would have entailed clearing a very high bar indeed. Recourse to the civil courts produced a landmark 1870 decision, Phillips v. Eyre whose upshot was to validate a law Eyre had the Jamaican assembly hastily enact retroactively legalizing his behavior and thereby rule out the prospect of a tort claim.
That Jamaican assembly was spooked enough that in 1866 it renounced its own power and made Jamaica into a Crown Colony directly governed by its British executive.
But if the need of the moment was to suppress the uprising, the need of history was to celebrate it — and the hero for posterity would not be Governor Eyre. The Morant Bay insurgents, a bare few of whom we will meet over the next days, have been valorized as slave rebels even if they weren’t quite literally slaves, and generally occupy an honored place in Jamaica.
* Cited in London Times, Nov. 13, 1865 — by which time the actual revolt was well over.
** That reluctant officer complied with his orders, but threw himself into the sea when recalled to England for subsequent the parliamentary inquiry.
Her husband and son joined Hidalgo‘s forces, in which service they would lay down their own lives.
Gertrudis Bocanegra kept a safe house, gathered supplies and money, shuttled messages … until Spanish authorities arrested her in 1817 and tortured her for information. (Need one even ask if the noble Bocanegra informed on her compatriots?)
She’s known as La Heroína de Pátzcuaro and is the namesake for, among other things, a plaza in that city and the striking Biblioteca Gertrudis Bocanegra, where one can find this:
Though Spain’s last execution is often misremembered as that of handsome anarchist Salvador Puig Antich in 1974, that milestone actually occurred with the shooting of five anti-Franco terrorists in three different cities on September 27, 1975.
It was an ugly coda to an ugly regime and a 40-year history of political killings.
Gen. Francisco Franco had the previous year been forced by his failing health to hand over power, raising hopes for a democratic transition. But after surprisingly recovering, Franco surprisingly took back his strongman role — and anti-Franco revolutionary movements that had been biding their time greeted the return of Franquismo with a wave of bombings and assassinations.
Spain’s cabinet met in September 1975 to consider eleven death-sentenced prisoners — three Basques of the separatist ETA, and eight members of the communist revolutionary organization FRAP. It upheld five of those sentences, all involving the killing of policemen. (Two women, who both claimed to be pregnant, were among those reprieved.)
The five who ultimately died were (and these are all Spanish Wikipedia links):
Headline from the London Times, September 27, 1975. The garrote was not, in fact, used for any of the executions.
The shootings met angry — often violent — reaction throughout Europe. Spanish embassies in the Netherlands and Turkey were attacked; several countries recalled their ambassadors; and French protesters rioted on the Champs Elysees. The EU predecessor entity EEC (Spain was not then a member) voted to freeze its trade relations with Spain.
And it was about more than just the five humans shot to death.
They had all been condemned within a month before their deaths, by military tribunals requiring harsh mandatory death sentences for crimes against public order. As the unsettled situation on the ground implied quite a lot of disorder and anti-government violence, observers worried that the regime’s willingness to actually carry out those sentences would unleash a “death machine” of unstoppable condemnations, met with inevitable reprisals, and still more unstoppable death sentences. Satans mördare, in the words of outspoken Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Devilish murders.
The devil had plans for a different soul.
The ailing Franco succumbed to Parkinson’s Disease on November 20, 1975, once again introducing the period of relative calm and stability that Spain could have been enjoying for the previous year had the late caudillo just stayed in retirement. Spain abolished the death penalty under its post-Franco constitution.
Spanish-speakers may enjoy this documentary focusing on one of this day’s victims: parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5. Indeed, this gruesome parting Franco made with his mortal coil has inspired many remembrances up the present day, especially given the martyrology-friendly anti-fascist credentials of the five. There’s also a 1991 film called The Longest Night and the Luis Eduardo Aute song “At Dawn”:
* This man’s widow Silvia Carretero, who was herself arrested and tortured (while pregnant!) under Franco, pushed an unsuccessful 2010 lawuit for her husband’s execution.