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|( 1880s: ) 1881|
Emperor Alexander II of Russia (assassinated)
- January 24 – William Edward Forster, chief secretary for Ireland, introduces his Coercion Bill, which temporarily suspends habeas corpus so that those people suspected of committing an offence can be detained without trial; it goes through a long debate before it is accepted February 2.
- January 25 – Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell form the Oriental Telephone Company.
- February 16 – The Canadian Pacific Railway is incorporated.
- March 4 – James A. Garfield is sworn in, as the 20th President of the United States.
- March 13 – Alexander II of Russia is killed near his palace, when a bomb is thrown at him. He is succeeded by his son, Alexander III.
- April 15 – Anti-Semitic pogroms in Southern Russia begin.
- May 12 – In North Africa, Tunisia becomes a French protectorate by the Treaty of Bardo.
- June 18 – The League of the Three Emperors (Germany,Austria, Russia) is resurrected.
- July 2 – Assassination of James A. Garfield: United States President James A. Garfield is shot by lawyer Charles J. Guiteau in Washington, D.C. The wound becomes infected, killing Garfield on September 19.
- August 3 – The Pretoria Convention peace treaty is signed, officially ending the war between the Boers and Britain.
- August 27 – The fifth hurricane of the Atlantic season hits Florida and the Carolinas, killing about 700.
- September 19 – President James A. Garfield dies eleven weeks after being shot. Vice President Chester A. Arthur becomes the 21st President of the United States.
- September 20 – President Chester A. Arthur is sworn in.
- October 13 – Determined to bring about the revival of the Hebrew language as a way of unifying Jews, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda has what is believed to be the first conversation in Modern Hebrew, with friends living in Paris.
- November 3 – The Mapuche uprising of 1881 begins, with an attack on Quillem, Chile.
- December 25–27 – The Warsaw pogrom is carried out in Vistula Land, Russian Empire.
- Some Vatican archives are opened to scholars for the first time.