Victor Hugo, 1802

Victor Hugo

On February 26, 1802, French Romantic novelist, poet, and dramatist Victor Hugo was born in Besançon, France. Outside of France, Hugo is best known for his novels such as Notre-Dame de Paris ( or The Hunchback of Notre Dame in English) and Les Misérables. In fact, the latter was made into a highly successful musical and then adapted into a 2012 film. However, in France, Hugo is better known for his poetic works.

Victor Hugo circa 1853-1855, via. I can just picture the photographer saying, “Quick! Act natural!” And then Hugo strikes this pose.

Influenced by the French Revolution of 1789, Hugo’s works are dominated by social and political themes (you know, like Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité). In addition, Hugo’s father was a general in Napoleon’s army. Thus, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Hugo never supported the French monarchy. Instead, he became an advocate for republicanism.

In 1830, the July Revolution broke out in France and a constitutional monarchy was consequently put in place. Hugo would have preferred a republic, but was nonetheless inspired by the themes of equality and freedom that powered the two revolutions. Thus, in 1831, he published The Hunchback of Notre Dame, one of his first works that included the social and political themes for which Hugo became known.

Hugo had now made a name for himself in the literary world, and in 1841 was elected to the Académie française or French Academy, a prestigious group that serves as the authority on the French language. Additionally, he began working on Les Misérables, a novel which took about 17 years to write and publish. It makes sense that it took so long considering it consists of five volumes and is one of the longest novels ever written. Ever.

Les Mis was finally published in 1862. The shortest correspondence in history supposedly occurred between Hugo and his publisher. Hugo sent a telegram with only a “?” to ask how well Les Mis was doing, as he was on vacation when it was published. His publisher sent back a “!” to signify that it was a sensation.

Does this look familiar? French illustrator Émile Bayard drew this for the original edition of Les Miserables, and it is used to promote the musical today, via.

In 1851, Hugo fled to Brussels after a coup in France, because he strongly opposed the new monarch, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. He also lived in Britain for awhile in his exile. However, he triumphantly returned in 1870, when a republic was established.

Hugo died in Paris on May 22, 1885, and was buried in the Panthéon as a national hero who exposed the flaws of society and helped create a republic in France.

“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Zimmerman Telegram, 1917

Sorry that posts have been sparse lately. School got pretty crazy, and I acquired a stomach virus on top of that (gross!). But I’m feeling better and will post more regularly.

World War I broke out between European nations in 1914, but the isolationist United States wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson was reelected after running with the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” However a series of events led the US to eventually declare war on Germany. In addition to Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare against US ships, Wilson referred to the Zimmerman Telegram in his request to Congress to declare war.

The Zimmerman Telegram, via

The Zimmerman Telegram was a memo written by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman to the German Minister to Mexico, von Eckhardt. First, the note stated that Germany would continue unrestricted submarine warfare despite America’s protestations. This is because although the US was neutral and would trade with all belligerent countries, they could not trade with Germany due to a British naval blockade. Germany knew their actions could provoke the neutral US into war, so then Zimmerman proposed an alliance with Mexico (and  Japan); Mexico, in turn, was promised its former territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The alliance between Germany, Mexico, and Japan would open up two new fronts and help reduce the strain on the German military.

However, British cryptographers intercepted the message and gave it to Wilson on February 24, 1917. Finally, the note was released to the press on March 1, and the US public was horrified by the telegram. Zimmerman conceded on March 3, that the leaked telegram was authentic. In addition, Germany responded by complaining that the Allies shouldn’t have been tapping their secure peace network in the first place. Germany playing the victim was not effective, and on April 6, 1917, the United States Congress approved Wilson’s decision to declare war on Germany.

Governor Elbridge Gerry Signed Bill to Redistrict Massachusetts, 1812

After looking at the title, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, a post about redistricting bills? This blog has gone downhill fast!” But what if I told you this bill was the origin of the political term “gerrymandering” which refers to strategically redistricting areas for political gain? Now it sounds a little less C-SPAN and a little more Scandal.

Elbridge Gerry, via

On this day in 1812, Governor of Massachusetts and future Vice President of the United States, Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that repositioned congressional districts. In this process, now known as gerrymandering, one tries to group together a certain demographic of voters that will most likely vote for the rival candidate. This, in turn, leads to “wasted votes” because the result of the election is pretty much predetermined. Gerrymandering also refers to reducing the wasted votes of supporting voters. As you can imagine, this process leads to some irregularly-shaped districts. The Boston Gazette noticed that the Essex County that Gerry redistricted somewhat resembled a salamander, and coined the phrase “gerrymander.”

A political cartoon of “The Gerry-Mander,” published in the Boston Centinel in 1812, via.

Gerrymandering continues today; it is technically legal but remains controversial. Currently, states redraw congressional districts every ten years because voters move to different congressional districts, thus leading to uneven populations. This means that voters that lived in a district with fewer voters would have a greater representation than those in a district with more voters. Hence, it makes sense that states would need to redistrict periodically to adjust for population changes. However, many problems arise because in most states, the state legislature, which of course has a political stake in the matter, creates these new districts.

So where should we draw the line? (Pun intended). One alternative is to have a third party redraw electoral districts instead of the state government (although, admittedly, gerrymandering could still occur). In addition, computer scientists are working on programs that could create districts based on mathematical algorithms.

There is debate over how much of an effect gerrymandering has on elections, but I do not like the principle of it: state legislatures rearranging districts so that some people’s votes are “wasted” doesn’t sit right with me. Hopefully, America can pass legislation that allocates the process of dividing districts to third parties or computer programs so that soon gerrymandering will be history.