15 May 1648

The Treaty of Westphalia is signed.

The Peace of Westphalia refers to the pair of treaties signed in October and May 1648 which ended both the Thirty Years’ War and the Eighty Years’ War. The treaties were signed on October 24 and May 15, 1648 and involved the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, the other German princes, Spain, France, Sweden and representatives from the Dutch republic. The Treaty of the Pyrenees, signed in 1659, ending the war between France and Spain, is also often considered part of the treaty.

The peace as a whole is often used by historians to mark the beginning of the modern era. Each ruler would have the right to determine their state’s religion—thus, in law, Protestantism and Catholicism were equal. The texts of the two treaties are largely identical and deal with the internal affairs of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Peace of Westphalia continues to be of importance today, with many academics asserting that the international system that exists today began at Westphalia. Both the basis and the result of this view have been attacked by revisionist academics and politicians alike, with revisionists questioning the significance of the Peace, and commentators and politicians attacking the “Westphalian System” of sovereign nation-states. The concept of each nation-state, regardless of size, as of equal legal value informed the founding of the United Nations, where all member states have one vote in the General Assembly. In the second half of the twentieth century, the democratic nation state as the pinnacle of political evolution saw membership of the UN rise from 50 when it was founded to 192 at the start of the twenty-first century. However, many new nations were artificial creations from the colonial division of the world, reflecting the economic interests of the colonizers rather than local cultural, ethnic, religious or other significant boundaries which serve as the foundation of cohesive societies.

Peace negotiations between France and the Habsburgs began in Cologne in 1641. These negotiations were initially blocked by Cardinal Richelieu of France, who insisted on the inclusion of all his allies, whether fully sovereign countries or states within the Holy Roman Empire. In Hamburg and Lübeck, Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire negotiated the Treaty of Hamburg with the intervention of Richelieu. The Holy Roman Empire and Sweden declared the preparations of Cologne and the Treaty of Hamburg to be preliminaries of an overall peace agreement.

Dutch envoy Adriaan Pauw enters Münster around 1646 for the peace negotiations
The main peace negotiations took place in Westphalia, in the neighboring cities of Münster and Osnabrück. Both cities were maintained as neutral and demilitarized zones for the negotiations.

In Münster, negotiations took place between the Holy Roman Empire and France, as well as between the Dutch Republic and Spain. Münster had been, since its re-Catholicisation in 1535, a strictly mono-denominational community. It housed the Chapter of the Prince-Bishopric of Münster. Only Roman Catholic worship was permitted, while Calvinism and Lutheranism were prohibited.

Sweden preferred to negotiate with the Holy Roman Empire in Osnabrück, controlled by the Protestant forces. Osnabrück was a bidenominational Lutheran and Catholic city, with two Lutheran churches and two Catholic churches. The city council was exclusively Lutheran, and the burghers mostly so, but the city also housed the Catholic Chapter of the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück and had many other Catholic inhabitants. Osnabrück had been subjugated by troops of the Catholic League from 1628 to 1633 and then taken by Lutheran Sweden.

18 October 1648

Boston Shoemakers form first American trade labor organization.

Today in 18 October 1648, Boston shoemakers and “coopers” barrel-makers formed what are considered the first American trade unions.

The colonies had till then failed to import the English tradition of guilds, whereby craftsmen would band together to establish prices, quality standards, apprentice programs and charitable programs. The guilds in England also supported members who had retired or were beset by health or other challenges.

But these two 1648 quasi-guilds were limited to ensuring quality. The Massachusetts General Court prohibited “The Company of Shoomakers” from offering educational or charitable programs, or from fixing prices or settling disputes.

More than a century later, the independence shown by the Boston shoemakers surfaced, as one of them has been credited with starting the Boston Tea Party.

The Philadelphia carpenter’s union, formed some years after 1648, was more aggressive on behalf of its workers, and its printers and shoemakers were also aggressive at an early stage in the city’s history. According to the History of Trade Unionism in the United States by Perlman and Selig: “The earliest recorded genuine labor strike in America, in 1786, was over wages paid to Philadelphia printers, who ‘turned out’ to demand a minimum wage of $6 per week.” The second strike on record, in 1791, was also in Philadelphia, by house carpenters who struck for a ten-hour day.

In 1796 local shoemakers in Philadelphia organized the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers shoemakers working with Cordovan leather. Three years later the organization staged a 10-week, successful strike for higher wages, the first strike in the newcounry sanctioned by a union.

24 October 1648

The Peace of Westphalia is signed, marking the end of the Thirty Years’ War.

Westphalia

The Westphalia area of north-western Germany gave its name to the treaty that ended the Thirty Years’ War, one of the most destructive conflicts in the history of Europe.

The war or series of connected wars began in 1618, when the Austrian Habsburgs tried to impose Roman Catholicism on their Protestant subjects in Bohemia. It pitted Protestant against Catholic, the Holy Roman Empire against France, the German princes and princelings against the emperor and each other, and France against the Habsburgs of Spain. The Swedes, the Danes, the Poles, the Russians, the Dutch and the Swiss were all dragged in or dived in. Commercial interests and rivalries played a part, as did religion and power politics.

Among famous commanders involved were Marshal Turenne and the Prince de Condé for France, Wallenstein for the Empire and Tilly for the Catholic League, and there was an able Bavarian general curiously named Franz von Mercy. Others to play a part ranged from the Winter King of Bohemia to the emperors Ferdinand II and Ferdinand III, Bethlen Gabor of Transylvania, Christian IV of Denmark, Gustavus II Adolphus and Queen Christina of Sweden, the Great Elector of Brandenburg, Philip IV of Spain and his brother the Cardinal-Infante, Louis XIII of France, Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin and several popes. Gustavus Adolphus was shot in the head and killed at the battle of Lutzen in 1632. The increasingly crazed Wallenstein, who grew so sensitive to noise that he had all the dogs, cats and cockerels killed in every town he came to, was murdered by an English captain in 1634. Still the fighting went on.