May 7, 2015

It Happened on May 7th

27th Amendment Ratified, 1992

The 27th Amendment to the Constitution is the one that prohibits Congressmen from giving themselves a raise that is effective immediately. Under the Amendment, any changes in salary for members of Congress are only effective at the next set of terms of office. Sounds like a pretty good law, doesn't it? Makes you wonder why it took so long for someone to suggest it.

Well, the answer is, it didn't. The amendment was proposed back in 1789, along with 11 other amendments. Ten of them were ratified by the states; you know those ten as the Bill of Rights. This one didn't. On the other hand, it didn't have an expiration date written into it so it was still viable after 203 years. The other one that wasn't ratified is known as the Congressional Apportionment Amendment, and it's actually still pending.

As you may or may not remember from your school days (I had to look it up) an Amendment may be proposed either by a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate, or by a national convention assembled at the request of at least two-thirds of the states. In order to become part of the United States Constitution, it must then be ratified either the legislatures of three-fourths of the states, or by ratifying conventions held in three-fourths of the states. It's up to Congress which ratification method is used.

When this particular amendment was proposed, it was only ratified by six states -- four less than the three-fourths majority required. Over the years it got ratified by additional states, sometimes as a symbolic act, and sometimes as a protest over Congressional raises. Of course, as more states were added to the Union, the number of ratifications needed increased too. The current requirement is 38 states to achieve a three-fourths majority.

Finally, on May 7, 1992, Michigan ratified the 27th Amendment and the Archivist of the United States certified the ratification completed. Well, that's the official date, anyway. As it turned out, Kentucky actually ratified all twelve of the original proposed amendments when it joined the Union in 1792, but that fact had kind of slipped through the cracks. Since Missouri had ratified the amendment two days earlier, it was actually the 38th state.

You'd think after 203 years, somebody would have been paying attention.

Cult of the Supreme Being Becomes State Religion of France, 1794

The Festival of the Cult of the Supreme Being held in Paris was an especially big deal.

One of the major themes of the French Revolution was an opposition to the Roman Catholic Church and organized religion. A system of belief called the Cult of Reason was put into place early after the overthrow of the Ancien Regime. It celebrated the ideals of Truth and Virtue, and was essentially humanocentric.

Maximilien Robespierre wasn't having any of that, however. By late 1793 he had denounced the Cult of Reason and designed his own Revolutionary Religion, the Cult of the Supreme Being. On May 7, 1794, he formally introduced it to the French National Convention.

The Cult of the Supreme Being was similar to traditional Christianity in that it recognized a god and the reality of an immortal human soul. It differed in that its goal was to produce public-minded, virtuous citizens -- pretty much what Robespierre imagined the ancient Greeks and Romans to have been. He used the Cult to get rid of (execute) some of the more prominent de-Christianizers, which incidentally didn't do any harm to his own power base.

To kick things off, Robespierre declared a national day of celebration on June 8, 1794, or "20 Prairial Year II" under the new French Republican Calendar. Festivals were mandated everywhere, but the one in Paris was especially splendid. Robespierre took on the leadership of the ceremony, and not to everyone's satisfaction. More than one critic noted that he descended on the people like Moses coming down from the mountain, and declaimed the tenets of his new religion. It may have contributed heavily to his fall from power and popularity.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony Premiered, 1824

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is one of Beethoven's greatest masterpieces, and, indeed, one of the musical masterpieces of all time. The vocal finale, "Ode to Joy" is known and loved all over the world.

He began working on it in 1818, but he had been thinking of setting Schiller's poem to music as early as 1793. When he finally finished it, he wanted to premiere it in Berlin, since he thought that the Vienna audiences were too accustomed to other styles of music. Friends prevailed upon him, however, and the symphony premiered on May 7, 1824 at the Karntnertortheater in Vienna.

The performance was conducted by Michael Umlauf, with Beethoven standing by. Umlauf had seen Beethoven attempt to conduct a dress rehearsal of his opera two years earlier. Beethoven by this time was totally deaf and the rehearsal went very badly. To avert disaster, Umlauf instructed the performers to ignore the composer. Beethoven remained on stage with Umlauf, and beat out the tempos.

At the end of the performance, the audience began applauding wildly. Beethoven was off by several measures and was still conducting. The contralto walked over to Beethoven and gently turned him around to see the audience's enthusiastic reception.

Contralto Caroline Ungher turned Beethoven to face the audience.
Beethoven received five standing ovations at the event. At the time, it was customary to give the emperor three standing ovations when he entered a hall, and it unheard of to give five ovations to a person who was not even a politician, much less a "low class" musician. Police intervened after five ovations.

The "Ode to Joy" portion of the Ninth Symphony has been adopted as the anthem of the European Union. It has also been used at ceremonies by countries lacking a national anthem, as in the early days of Kosovo's independence, and when East and West Germany played as the United Team of Germany in the Olympics. It is also popular in Japan as a traditional part of New Year's celebrations.

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