This Day in History: 05/03/1469 - Niccolo Machiavelli born

This Day in History: 05/03/1469 - Niccolo Machiavelli born

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In This Day In History video clip: May, 3, 1469 - Niccolo Machiavelli Born - On this day in 1469, the Italian philosopher and writer Niccolo Machiavelli is born. A lifelong patriot and diehard proponent of a unified Italy, Machiavelli became one of the fathers of modern political theory.

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On this day in 1469: Niccolò Machiavelli, author of The Prince, is born

Niccolò Machiavelli

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N iccolò Machiavelli was born in Florence on 3 May 1469. Although wealthy and influential for generations, his family had fallen on hard times, and his father struggled as a lawyer. Little is known about Machiavelli’s childhood, except that he received a good humanist education.

Machiavelli’s first significant entry into history was in 1498, aged 29. A few days after the infamous execution of Savonarola in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria, Machiavelli was appointed to the city’s Second Chancery, which oversaw foreign affairs. How he was awarded the prestigious position at such a relatively young age is unknown, but he held it until 1512.

His career in high politics was eventful, with over 40 diplomatic missions, and frequent contact with the leading figures of the day, including the Borgia pope, Alexander VI, and his son, Cesare Borgia. Florence was, though, a volatile city, and when it returned to Medici control in 1512, Machiavelli was imprisoned, tortured, and exiled.

D eprived of his beloved career in politics, he instead embraced life as a writer. He described in a letter how he walked in the woods in the mornings, went to the inn to drink and gamble with his friends in the afternoon, then retired to his study to read and write in the evenings.

H e wrote his two best-known books during this period. The first was The Prince, a relatively accessible book in which he gave advice on how to rule. This type of guidance was a recognised medieval genre of book known as “Mirrors for Princes”, with origins in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. However, unlike most authors of these instructional texts, Machiavelli did not exhort Renaissance princes to be models of virtue. Instead, he counseled scheming and dissembling, and recommended that an accomplished ruler is one who pays due attention to necessity and expediency rather than ideals. “One must know how to colour one’s actions and be a great liar and deceiver.”

Much of his advice shocked people deeply.

“A prudent ruler cannot, and must not, honour his word when it places him at a disadvantage … men are wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your word to them.”

I n the same period he also wrote Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy. The style is more learned and ponderous that in The Prince, but his theme is still government, and his underlying theories are complementary with those in The Prince.

Although he never explicitly stated that the end justifies the means, he excused Romulus for his fratricide of Remus because it was for the common good, and he stressed the virtues of naked expediency.

I n both books he observed that rulers in ancient times were strong, but their modern counterparts were weak. It was a theme he returned to later, in The Art of War (1521), in which he praised the harshness of the ancients, comparing them unfavourably to their modern descendants. He specifically attributed modern weaknesses to the negative influence of Christianity and its clergy, leading many to speculate about his personal religious beliefs.

Despite his influence and – although he would not recognise it – overt modernism, Machiavelli’s legacy is largely one of infamy. In Henry VI Part 3, Shakespeare refers to “the murderous Machiavel”, and although politicians of every generation have pored over The Prince with fervour, “Machiavellian” has never been a compliment.

History & Quotes

- Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli in 1469
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Copyright 2021 by United Press International


May 3 1469 – Italian Author and Politician Niccolo Machiavelli is born in Florence

*Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Renaissance is, undoubtedly, one of the most important eras for art and literature in European history. Masters of sculpture and painting have come to define Florence’s reputation as the Italian cultural center of the period, but a well-known author and political theorist also called the city home: Niccolo Machiavelli, born on May 3, 1469. Over the course of his time both in and out of power, he composed some of the most famous letters in Italian history and developed a philosophy on government still recognized for its truth and thirst for control.

Throughout the late 1400s, central Europe was a cauldron of religious and political conflict. What we know today as Italy was then a bunch of independent city-states built on lucrative trade and fierce territorialism. When combined with extensive royal rivalries between the continent’s various dynastic families, not to mention the vast wealth and allegiance commanded by the Roman Catholic Church, the hunger for power drove a number of kings, popes and merchants into a near-endless cycle of conflict and questionable alliances.

Machiavelli was born into a family with extensive ties to the Florentine government, both through his father’s career as a lawyer and a history of public service appointments taken up by his ancestors. While he received a traditional education in Latin and grammar, the Medici family continued its stranglehold on the republic. Despite the explosion of magnificent art and emphasis on scholarship under their rule, some in the religious establishment — chiefly the firebrand priest Girolamo Savonarola — felt the cultural pursuits were yanking Florence away from its commitment to Catholicism.

In the middle of 1498, four years after the Medici were pushed out of the city by Savonarola’s zealous followers, Machiavelli was chosen as head of the Second Chancery. Now able to affect the direction of Florentine government both domestically and in foreign policy, he used his gift for diplomacy while touring Europe over the next 15 years — visits to France, Spain, Germany and the Vatican helped him to understand a variety of governing styles, from beneficent to brutal.

Machiavelli paid close attention to the Borgias, Cesare and his father, Pope Alexander VI, noticing the close relationship between claims of defending the Church as an impetus for wrangling for more territory in central Italy. As the head of the Florentine military, it affected his decisions for building an army and shaped his larger political philosophy. In short, Machiavelli trusted those who had a stake in the outcome of a battle (citizens, for example) far more than mercenaries hired to fight, a strategy which led to victory in a conflict with Pisa in 1509.

Even with his principled stances and able command on the battlefield, Machiavelli was unable to resist every enemy which came to challenge the Florentines. In August 1512, Alexander’s successor, Pope Julius II, aided the Medici in a fight to regain control of the city. Under fire from a superior Spanish army, the Republic of Florence fell, rendering the government which Machiavelli participated in nothing more than a target for accusations of treason. Forced out of office and tortured for a few months the following year, he retreated to his estate in the tiny hamlet of Sant’Andrea in Percussina.

Exiled yet filled with an abundance of thoughts on the nature of politics, Machiavelli composed The Prince, his famous collection of maxims dedicated to ruling in the face of corruption. According to his ideology, making decisions with large social consequences did not always allow authorities to behave within a strict morality. If the greatest public good required a man to lie — or worse — it was a necessity for the “new prince” to take the action despite his personal distaste for it. (These situational scruples caught the attention of the Catholic Church, garnering Machiavelli a place on the list of prohibited books in 1559.)

With nothing to do but read and write, Machiavelli engaged in correspondence with a wide number of friends in more influential positions from his home, Albergaccio. Building on his lengthy list of political tracts and poetry written during his time in Florentine government, he pulled together Discourses on Livy — often regarded as a foremost defense of the republican method of rule — and a series of plays in retirement. Finally, on June 21, 1527, he died at the age of 58 and was returned to Florence for burial at the Church of Santa Croce.

Almost five centuries after his death, Machiavelli remains a controversial figure amongst researchers and political theorists alike. In some respects, the acknowledgement within his writings that the ends would always justify the means had led to public cynicism toward politicians — some will argue elected officials are forever driven by personal motivation instead of virtuous intentions. The tendency toward machinations in order to achieve a desired result has even led to the creation of the word “Machiavellian,” an adjective used to describe manipulative or dishonest tactics.

The debate over his amorality will forever color the way generations of leaders look upon Machiavelli, but one might say his appeal will hardly resonate with any society’s better angels. While writing The Prince during evenings at Albergaccio, he dressed in his old official robes as a means to reconnect with his former glory, then scribbled down grim statements about humans as political animals. In one well-known case, he postulated that “love and fear can hardly exist together, [so] if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”

1481 – An earthquake strikes the island of Rhodes, killing 30,000.

1802 – Washington, DC is incorporated as a city.

1947 – The post-war Constitution of Japan becomes law.

1978 – A representative of Digital Equipment Corporation sends the first spam email to ARPANET addresses on the west coast of United States.

1979 – Margaret Thatcher becomes the first woman elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Birthdays in History on May 3

    Bartholomaeus of Braga [Fernandez], Dominican theologian and Archbishop Emeritus of Braga, born in Mártires, Santa Maria Maior, Lisbon (d. 1590) Joannes Antonides van der Goes, Dutch poet (Bellone aen bant), born in Goes, Netherlands (d. 1684) Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, German architect, born in Herford, Germany (d. 1736) Jan Jacob Mauricius, Dutch governor-general of Suriname (1742-51), born in Amsterdam, Netherlands (d. 1768) Henri Pitot, Italian-French engineer, born in Aramon, France (d. 1771) Alexis Clairaut, French mathematician (Clairaut's theorem), born in Paris (d. 1765) August von Kotzebue, German dramatist, born in Weimar, Germany (d. 1819) Élisabeth of France, princess of France, youngest sister of king Louis XVI, born in Versailles, France (d. 1794) Charles Tennant, Scottish chemist and industrialist, born in Laigh Corton, Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland (d. 1838) Giuseppe Acerbi, Italian traveller and naturalist, born in Castel Goffredo, Milan, Italy (d. 1846) Hermanus Willem Witteveen, Dutch theologist, born in Boornbergum, Netherlands (d. 1884)

Golda Meir

1898 Golda Meir [Mabovitch], Israeli teacher, stateswoman and 4th Prime Minister of Israel (1969-74) known as the "Iron Lady" of Israeli politics, born in Kiev, Ukraine (d. 1978)

    Septima Poinsette Clark, American educator and civil rights activist, born in CHarleston, South Carolina (d. 1987) Alfred Kastler, French physicist (Nobel 1966 - Hertzian resonances within atoms), born in Guebwiller, Alsace, German Empire (d. 1984) Albrecht Luitpold Ferdinand Michael, duke of Bavaria, born in Munich, German Empire (d. 1996) Earl Wilson, American journalist and columnist (Midnight Earl), born in Rockford, Ohio (d. 1987) Eleanore "May" Sarton, Belgian-American writer (Land of Silence), born in Wondelgem, Belgium (d. 1995) Earl Blackwell, American society impresario (Celebrity Register), born in Atlanta, Georgia (d. 1995) William M. Inge, American playwright (Picnic-Pulitzer 1953), born in Independence, Kansas (d. 1973) Henry B. González, American politician, U.S. House of Representatives from Texas (1961-99), born in San Antonio, Texas (d. 2000) Pierre Emmanuel [Noël Mathieu], French poet (Sodome), born in Gan, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France (d. 1984) Kiro Gligorov, 1st President of the Republic of Macedonia (1991-99), born in Štip, Kingdom of Serbia (d. 2012) John Cullen Murphy, American comic strip artist, born in NYC, New York (d. 2004) Vasco Gonçalves, Portuguese army officer and 103rd Prime Minister of Portugal (1974-75), born in Lisbon, Portugal (d. 2005) Ralph Hall, American politician, U.S. House of Representatives from Texas (1981-2005), born in Fate, Texas

Akio Toyoda

1956 Akio Toyoda, Japanese president of Toyota Motor Corporation, born in Nagoya, Japan

This Day in History: May 3

FILE - British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)

On this day, May 3 …

1979: Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher is chosen to become Britain’s first female prime minister as the Tories oust the incumbent Labour government in parliamentary elections.

  • 1469: Niccolo Machiavelli is born in Florence, Italy.
  • 1802: Washington, D.C., is incorporated as a city.
  • 1913: Clorox has its beginnings as five entrepreneurs agree to set up a liquid bleach factory in Oakland, Calif.
  • 1916: Irish nationalists Padraic Pearse, Thomas Clarke and Thomas MacDonagh are executed by a British firing squad for their roles in the Easter Rising, an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week.
  • 1948: The Supreme Court, in Shelley v. Kraemer, rules that covenants prohibiting the sale of real estate to African-Americans or members of other racial groups are legally unenforceable.
  • 1952: The Kentucky Derby is televised nationally for the first time on CBS.
  • 1960: The Harvey Schmidt-Tom Jones musical "The Fantasticks" begins a nearly 42-year run at New York’s Sullivan Street Playhouse.
  • 1978: Spam email is born as Gary Thuerk, a marketing executive for the Digital Equipment Corp. of Maynard, Mass., transmits an unsolicited sales pitch for a new line of computers to 400 prospective customers on ARPANET, a precursor to the Internet the stunt generates some business, as well as complaints.
  • 1978: "Sun Day" takes place on a Wednesday as thousands of people extolling the virtues of solar energy hold events across the country.
  • 1986: In NASA’s first post-Challenger launch, an unmanned Delta rocket loses power in its main engine shortly after liftoff, forcing safety officers to destroy it by remote control.

In this May 2, 2012 file photo, Kate and Gerry McCann pose for the media with a missing poster depicting an age progression computer-generated image of their daughter Madeleine at nine years of age, to mark her birthday and the 5th anniversary of her disappearance during a family vacation in southern Portugal in May 2007. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)

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