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Japan invades Hong Kong

This Day in History - 11 hours 29 min ago

On this day, Japanese troops land in Hong Kong and a slaughter ensues.

A week of air raids over Hong Kong, a British crown colony, was followed up on December 17 with a visit paid by Japanese envoys to Sir Mark Young, the British governor of Hong Kong. The envoys’ message was simple: The British garrison there should simply surrender to the Japanese—resistance was futile. The envoys were sent home with the following retort: “The governor and commander in chief of Hong Kong declines absolutely to enter into negotiations for the surrender of Hong Kong…”

The first wave of Japanese troops landed in Hong Kong with artillery fire for cover and the following order from their commander: “Take no prisoners.” Upon overrunning a volunteer antiaircraft battery, the Japanese invaders roped together the captured soldiers and proceeded to bayonet them to death. Even those who offered no resistance, such as the Royal Medical Corps, were led up a hill and killed.

The Japanese quickly took control of key reservoirs, threatening the British and Chinese inhabitants with a slow death by thirst. The Brits finally surrendered control of Hong Kong on Christmas Day.

The War Powers Act was passed by Congress on the same day, authorizing the president to initiate and terminate defense contracts, reconfigure government agencies for wartime priorities, and regulate the freezing of foreign assets. It also permitted him to censor all communications coming in and leaving the country.

FDR appointed the executive news director of the Associated Press, Byron Price, as director of censorship. Although invested with the awesome power to restrict and withhold news, Price took no extreme measures, allowing news outlets and radio stations to self-censor, which they did. Most top secret information, including the construction of the atom bomb, remained just that.

The most extreme use of the censorship law seems to have been the restriction of the free flow of “girlie” magazines to servicemen—including Esquire, which the Post Office considered obscene for its occasional saucy cartoons and pinups. Esquire took the Post Office to court, and after three years the Supreme Court ultimately sided with the magazine.

Slavery abolished in America

This Day in History - 11 hours 37 min ago

Following its ratification by the requisite three-quarters of the states earlier in the month, the 13th Amendment is formally adopted into the U.S. Constitution, ensuring that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Before the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and other leaders of the anti-slavery Republican Party sought not to abolish slavery but merely to stop its extension into new territories and states in the American West. This policy was unacceptable to most Southern politicians, who believed that the growth of free states would turn the U.S. power structure irrevocably against them. In November 1860, Lincoln’s election as president signaled the secession of seven Southern states and the formation of the Confederate States of America. Shortly after his inauguration in 1861, the Civil War began. Four more Southern states joined the Confederacy, while four border slave states in the upper South remained in the Union.

Lincoln, though he privately detested slavery, responded cautiously to the call by abolitionists for emancipation of all American slaves after the outbreak of the Civil War. As the war dragged on, however, the Republican-dominated federal government began to realize the strategic advantages of emancipation: The liberation of slaves would weaken the Confederacy by depriving it of a major portion of its labor force, which would in turn strengthen the Union by producing an influx of manpower. With 11 Southern states seceded from the Union, there were few pro-slavery congressmen to stand in the way of such an action.

In 1862, Congress annulled the fugitive slave laws, prohibited slavery in the U.S. territories, and authorized Lincoln to employ freed slaves in the army. Following the major Union victory at the Battle of Antietam in September, Lincoln issued a warning of his intent to issue an emancipation proclamation for all states still in rebellion on New Year’s Day.

That day–January 1, 1863–President Lincoln formally issued the Emancipation Proclamation, calling on the Union army to liberate all slaves in states still in rebellion as “an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity.” These three million slaves were declared to be “then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The proclamation exempted the border slave states that remained in the Union and all or parts of three Confederate states controlled by the Union army.

The Emancipation Proclamation transformed the Civil War from a war against secession into a war for “a new birth of freedom,” as Lincoln stated in his Gettysburg Address in 1863. This ideological change discouraged the intervention of France or England on the Confederacy’s behalf and enabled the Union to enlist the 180,000 African American soldiers and sailors who volunteered to fight between January 1, 1863, and the conclusion of the war.

As the Confederacy staggered toward defeat, Lincoln realized that the Emancipation Proclamation, a war measure, might have little constitutional authority once the war was over. The Republican Party subsequently introduced the 13th Amendment into Congress, and in April 1864 the necessary two-thirds of the overwhelmingly Republican Senate passed the amendment. However, the House of Representatives, featuring a higher proportion of Democrats, did not pass the amendment by a two-thirds majority until January 1865, three months before Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

On December 2, 1865, Alabama became the 27th state to ratify the 13th Amendment, thus giving it the requisite three-fourths majority of states’ approval necessary to make it the law of the land. Alabama, a former Confederate state, was forced to ratify the amendment as a condition for re-admission into the Union. On December 18, the 13th Amendment was officially adopted into the Constitution–246 years after the first shipload of captive Africans landed at Jamestown, Virginia, and were bought as slaves.

Slavery’s legacy and efforts to overcome it remained a central issue in U.S. politics for more than a century, particularly during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era and the African American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

Mayflower docks at Plymouth Harbor

This Day in History - 11 hours 40 min ago

On December 18, 1620, the British ship Mayflower docked at modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, and its passengers prepared to begin their new settlement, Plymouth Colony.

The famous Mayflower story began in 1606, when a group of reform-minded Puritans in Nottinghamshire, England, founded their own church, separate from the state-sanctioned Church of England. Accused of treason, they were forced to leave the country and settle in the more tolerant Netherlands. After 12 years of struggling to adapt and make a decent living, the group sought financial backing from some London merchants to set up a colony in America. On September 6, 1620, 102 passengers–dubbed Pilgrims by William Bradford, a passenger who would become the first governor of Plymouth Colony–crowded on the Mayflower to begin the long, hard journey to a new life in the New World.

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower anchored at what is now Provincetown Harbor, Cape Cod. Before going ashore, 41 male passengers–heads of families, single men and three male servants–signed the famous Mayflower Compact, agreeing to submit to a government chosen by common consent and to obey all laws made for the good of the colony. Over the next month, several small scouting groups were sent ashore to collect firewood and scout out a good place to build a settlement. Around December 10, one of these groups found a harbor they liked on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. They returned to the Mayflower to tell the other passengers, but bad weather prevented them from docking until December 18. After exploring the region, the settlers chose a cleared area previously occupied by members of a local Native American tribe, the Wampanoag. The tribe had abandoned the village several years earlier, after an outbreak of European disease. That winter of 1620-1621 was brutal, as the Pilgrims struggled to build their settlement, find food and ward off sickness. By spring, 50 of the original 102 Mayflower passengers were dead. The remaining settlers made contact with returning members of the Wampanoag tribe and in March they signed a peace treaty with a tribal chief, Massasoit. Aided by the Wampanoag, especially the English-speaking Squanto, the Pilgrims were able to plant crops–especially corn and beans–that were vital to their survival. The Mayflower and its crew left Plymouth to return to England on April 5, 1621.

Over the next several decades, more and more settlers made the trek across the Atlantic to Plymouth, which gradually grew into a prosperous shipbuilding and fishing center. In 1691, Plymouth was incorporated into the new Massachusetts Bay Association, ending its history as an independent colony.

Da Vinci notebook sells for over 5 million

This Day in History - Wed, 12/12/2018 - 8:18am

On this day in 1980, American oil tycoon Armand Hammer pays $5,126,000 at auction for a notebook containing writings by the legendary artist Leonardo da Vinci.

The manuscript, written around 1508, was one of some 30 similar books da Vinci produced during his lifetime on a variety of subjects. It contained 72 loose pages featuring some 300 notes and detailed drawings, all relating to the common theme of water and how it moved. Experts have said that da Vinci drew on it to paint the background of his masterwork, the Mona Lisa. The text, written in brown ink and chalk, read from right to left, an example of da Vinci’s favored mirror-writing technique. The painter Giuseppi Ghezzi discovered the notebook in 1690 in a chest of papers belonging to Guglielmo della Porto, a 16th-century Milanese sculptor who had studied Leonardo’s work. In 1717, Thomas Coke, the first earl of Leicester, bought the manuscript and installed it among his impressive collection of art at his family estate in England.

More than two centuries later, the notebook–by now known as the Leicester Codex–showed up on the auction block at Christie’s in London when the current Lord Coke was forced to sell it to cover inheritance taxes on the estate and art collection. In the days before the sale, art experts and the press speculated that the notebook would go for $7 to $20 million. In fact, the bidding started at $1.4 million and lasted less than two minutes, as Hammer and at least two or three other bidders competed to raise the price $100,000 at a time. The $5.12 million price tag was the highest ever paid for a manuscript at that time; a copy of the legendary Gutenberg Bible had gone for only $2 million in 1978. “I’m very happy with the price. I expected to pay more,” Hammer said later. “There is no work of art in the world I wanted more than this.” Lord Coke, on the other hand, was only “reasonably happy” with the sale; he claimed the proceeds would not be sufficient to cover the taxes he owed.

Hammer, the president of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, renamed his prize the Hammer Codex and added it to his valuable collection of art. When Hammer died in 1990, he left the notebook and other works to the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Several years later, the museum offered the manuscript for sale, claiming it was forced to take this action to cover legal costs incurred when the niece and sole heir of Hammer’s late wife, Frances, sued the estate claiming Hammer had cheated Frances out of her rightful share of his fortune. On November 11, 1994, the Hammer Codex was sold to an anonymous bidder–soon identified as Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft–at a New York auction for a new record high price of $30.8 million. Gates restored the title of Leicester Codex and has since loaned the manuscript to a number of museums for public display.

Mona Lisa recovered in Florence

This Day in History - Wed, 12/12/2018 - 8:17am

Two years after it was stolen from the Louvre Museum in Paris, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Mona Lisa is recovered inside Italian waiter Vincenzo Peruggia’s hotel room in Florence. Peruggia had previously worked at the Louvre and had participated in the heist with a group of accomplices dressed as Louvre janitors on the morning of August 21, 1911.

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the great Italian Renaissance painters, completed The Mona Lisa, a portrait of the wife of wealthy Florentine citizen Francesco del Gioconda, in 1504. The painting, also known as La Gioconda, depicts the figure of a woman with an enigmatic facial expression that is both aloof and alluring, seated before a visionary landscape.

After the recovery of The Mona Lisa, Peruggia was convicted in Italy of the robbery and spent just 14 months in jail. The Mona Lisa was eventually returned to the Louvre, where it remains today, exhibited behind bulletproof glass. It is arguably the most famous painting in the world and is seen by millions of visitors every year.

French soldiers killed in train accident

This Day in History - Wed, 12/12/2018 - 8:16am

More than 500 French soldiers are killed when their train derails in Modane, France, on this day in 1917. The troops were returning from fighting World War I in Italy. There was ample warning that the conditions were dangerous, but the French officers ignored the expert advice and insisted that the overcrowded train proceed as scheduled.

More than a 1,000 (some estimate the number to be as high as 1,200) French soldiers were trying to travel between Turin, Italy, and Lyon, France, through the Alps in southeastern France to return home in time for Christmas. However, so many coach cars were attached to a single locomotive that the engineer in charge protested and refused to leave the station. The danger was not so much that the locomotive would not be able to pull the 19 cars, but that it wouldn’t be able to stop the cars since there were no brakes on 16 of the coaches.

A French officer, anxious to get the men home for the holidays, pulled out a gun and threatened the engineer until he agreed to begin the trip. Unfortunately, the engineer’s concerns were valid: As the train came out of the Mount Cern tunnel and approached the town of Modane in France, it had to descend a steep grade. The brakes could not hold the weight of the crowded coach cars and the train went out of control down the hill. Near the bottom, the train came to a wooden bridge and shot off the rails. The coach cars piled up; as they were made mostly of wood, many caught fire immediately.

The death toll was estimated at between 500 and 800 men. The fire was so intense that it burned at least 400 of the bodies beyond recognition. Although the army attempted to cover up the details of the tragedy because it implicated French officers, the engineer–who survived–finally released the full story some 15 years later.

Millions Stolen from JFK Airport In the Infamous 'Lufthansa Heist'

This Day in History - Tue, 12/11/2018 - 8:08am

On December 11, 1978 half a dozen masked robbers raided the Lufthansa Airlines cargo building at JFK Airport in New York, making off with more than $5 million in cash ($21 million in today's dollars) and almost $1 million in jewelry. To this day, the Lufthansa heist, as it is known, is considered one of the greatest in U.S. history.

The plan was dreamed up by Peter Gruenewald, a Lufthansa cargo worker at JFK Airport. Gruenewald knew that Lufthansa regularly flew large amounts of unmarked cash from Europe—the U.S. currency exchanged overseas by American tourists and servicemen—to JFK. Typically, this money would immediately be transferred to American banks via Brink’s trucks. However, delays sometimes caused the cash delivery to arrive after the last of the trucks had left for the day, which meant it was stored at the airport until the next business day—and vulnerable to theft.

Gruenewald took his plan to fellow cargo worker and friend Louis Werner, in the hopes of putting it in motion. Unfortunately for Gruenewald, Werner saw the robbery as an opportunity to get out from under a mountain of personal gambling debt and double-crossed his friend. He took Gruenewald's plan to a big-time bookmaker in the area, Martin Krugman, who took the idea to his buddy, infamous mobster-turned-movie-consultant Henry Hill.

As depicted in the famous movie Goodfellas, Hill was part of a crew of gangsters run by James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke. After years of earning money through nefarious deeds, Jimmy’s crew had become closely associated with the Lucchese crime family, and had amassed a solid reputation in the seedy world of organized crime. Burke and Hill took over the planning for the robbery. Jimmy’s crew was very familiar with JFK. Whenever they needed easy cash, the airport was an easy mark. The crew regularly hijacked trucks from JFK, often taking two or three trucks per week from there for quick money. Whether they were filled with televisions, clothes or food, they knew how to move merchandise to make extra cash.

Burke and Hill assembled a team for the robbery and waited for the word from his inside man, Werner. At about 3:00 A.M. on December 11, a black van loaded with the masked men pulled up to Lufthansa’s storage area. The men entered the building while the getaway van was brought to the back. They burst in, wielding guns, rounding up the night-shift employees and handcuffing them in the break room. The gunmen forced a supervisor to open the 10-by-20 foot vault to avoid setting off alarms. The cash and jewels were loaded into the van, and the crew inconspicuously drove away.

The entire heist took little more than an hour.

Unfortunately, they didn’t exactly get away free and clear. Rather than take the van to get crushed in a mob-controlled junk yard the night of the robbery, getaway driver Parnell Steven “Stacks” Edwards got drunk and left it parked illegally on the street in Brooklyn, where it was found with his fingerprints and footprint in the interior. Burke decided to cut the ties between Edwards and his crew, and the driver became the first suspect in the crime to be murdered. As Burke got more and more paranoid—and greedy for a larger share of the copious amounts of cash taken in the heist—the dominos began to fall fairly quickly. Krugman was the next to go, disappearing on January 6, 1979. By the summer of that year, eight men associated with the robbery were dead or missing.

Unable to connect anything to Jimmy and Henry’s crew, and with mobster bodies piling up, the FBI turned its attention to the inside man—Louis Werner. With help from testimony from Gruenewald, Werner was convicted for his role in the heist, but refused to cooperate or give up his co-conspirators. It seemed the Bureau would never solve the case, or bring to justice those involved.

“These ‘goodfellas’ thought they had a license to steal, a license to kill and a license to do whatever they wanted,” said George Venizelos, FBI assistant director-in-charge, in the New York field office in a comment to Reuters.

The biggest break in the investigation finally came in the spring of 1980, when Hill was arrested on six drug-related counts. It wasn’t long before he had “flipped,” convinced by the FBI to testify against not only Burke, but Lucchese family underboss Paul Vario as well. Hill’s testimony led to Burke’s conviction on two separate counts—a basketball points-shaving scheme and an unrelated murder—and “Jimmy the Gent” died in prison in 1996. Vario was convicted of racketeering and died in prison in 1988.

Only a portion of the stolen money was ever recovered.

Germany declares war on the United States

This Day in History - Tue, 12/11/2018 - 8:02am

On this day, Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States, bringing America, which had been neutral, into the European conflict.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor surprised even Germany. Although Hitler had made an oral agreement with his Axis partner Japan that Germany would join a war against the United States, he was uncertain as to how the war would be engaged. Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor answered that question. On December 8, Japanese Ambassador Oshima went to German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop to nail the Germans down on a formal declaration of war against America. Von Ribbentrop stalled for time; he knew that Germany was under no obligation to do this under the terms of the Tripartite Pact, which promised help if Japan was attacked, but not if Japan was the aggressor. Von Ribbentrop feared that the addition of another antagonist, the United States, would overwhelm the German war effort.

But Hitler thought otherwise. He was convinced that the United States would soon beat him to the punch and declare war on Germany. The U.S. Navy was already attacking German U-boats, and Hitler despised Roosevelt for his repeated verbal attacks against his Nazi ideology. He also believed that Japan was much stronger than it was, that once it had defeated the United States, it would turn and help Germany defeat Russia. So at 3:30 p.m. (Berlin time) on December 11, the German charge d’affaires in Washington handed American Secretary of State Cordell Hull a copy of the declaration of war.

That very same day, Hitler addressed the Reichstag to defend the declaration. The failure of the New Deal, argued Hitler, was the real cause of the war, as President Roosevelt, supported by plutocrats and Jews, attempted to cover up for the collapse of his economic agenda. “First he incites war, then falsifies the causes, then odiously wraps himself in a cloak of Christian hypocrisy and slowly but surely leads mankind to war,” declared Hitler-and the Reichstag leaped to their feet in thunderous applause.

Edward VIII abdicates

This Day in History - Tue, 12/11/2018 - 8:02am

After ruling for less than one year, Edward VIII becomes the first English monarch to voluntarily abdicate the throne. He chose to abdicate after the British government, public, and the Church of England condemned his decision to marry the American divorcée Wallis Warfield Simpson. On the evening of December 11, he gave a radio address in which he explained, “I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.” On December 12, his younger brother, the duke of York, was proclaimed King George VI.

Edward, born in 1894, was the eldest son of King George V, who became the British sovereign in 1910. Still unmarried as he approached his 40th birthday, he socialized with the fashionable London society of the day. By 1934, he had fallen deeply in love with American socialite Wallis Warfield Simpson, who was married to Ernest Simpson, an English-American businessman who lived with Mrs. Simpson near London. Wallis, who was born in Pennsylvania, had previously married and divorced a U.S. Navy pilot. The royal family disapproved of Edward’s married mistress, but by 1936 the prince was intent on marrying Mrs. Simpson. Before he could discuss this intention with his father, George V died, in January 1936, and Edward was proclaimed king.

The new king proved popular with his subjects, and his coronation was scheduled for May 1937. His affair with Mrs. Simpson was reported in American and continental European newspapers, but due to a gentlemen’s agreement between the British press and the government, the affair was kept out of British newspapers. On October 27, 1936, Mrs. Simpson obtained a preliminary decree of divorce, presumably with the intent of marrying the king, which precipitated a major scandal. To the Church of England and most British politicians, an American woman twice divorced was unacceptable as a prospective British queen. Winston Churchill, then a Conservative backbencher, was the only notable politician to support Edward.

Despite the seemingly united front against him, Edward could not be dissuaded. He proposed a morganatic marriage, in which Wallis would be granted no rights of rank or property, but on December 2, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin rejected the suggestion as impractical. The next day, the scandal broke on the front pages of British newspapers and was discussed openly in Parliament. With no resolution possible, the king renounced the throne on December 10. The next day, Parliament approved the abdication instrument, and Edward VIII’s reign came to an end. The new king, George VI, made his older brother the duke of Windsor. On June 3, 1937, the duke of Windsor and Wallis Warfield married at the Château de Cande in France’s Loire Valley.

For the next two years, the duke and duchess lived primarily in France but visited other European countries, including Germany, where the duke was honored by Nazi officials in October 1937 and met with Adolf Hitler. After the outbreak of World War II, the duke accepted a position as liaison officer with the French. In June 1940, France fell to the Nazis, and Edward and Wallis went to Spain. During this period, the Nazis concocted a scheme to kidnap Edward with the intention of returning him to the British throne as a puppet king. George VI, like his prime minister, Winston Churchill, was adamantly opposed to any peace with Nazi Germany. Unaware of the Nazi kidnapping plot but conscious of Edward’s pre-war Nazi sympathies, Churchill hastily offered Edward the governorship of the Bahamas in the West Indies. The duke and duchess set sail from Lisbon on August 1, 1940, narrowly escaping a Nazi SS team sent to seize them.

In 1945, the duke resigned his post, and the couple moved back to France. They lived mainly in Paris, and Edward made a few visits to England, such as to attend the funerals of King George VI in 1952 and his mother, Queen Mary, in 1953. It was not until 1967 that the duke and duchess were invited by the royal family to attend an official public ceremony, the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to Queen Mary. Edward died in Paris in 1972 but was buried at Frogmore, on the grounds of Windsor Castle. In 1986, Wallis died and was buried at his side.

Yeltsin orders Russian forces into Chechnya

This Day in History - Tue, 12/11/2018 - 8:01am

In the largest Russian military offensive since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks pour into the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya. Encountering only light resistance, Russian forces had by evening pushed to the outskirts of the Chechen capital of Grozny, where several thousand Chechen volunteers vowed a bitter fight against the Russians.

With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Chechnya, like many of the other republics encompassed by the former Soviet Union, declared its independence. However, unlike Georgia, the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and the other former Soviet states, Chechnya held only the barest autonomy under Soviet rule and was not considered one of the 15 official Soviet republics. Instead, Chechnya is regarded as one of many republics within the Russian Federation. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who permitted the dissolution of the Soviet Union, would not tolerate the secession of a state within territorial Russia.

About the size of Connecticut and located in southeastern Russia on the Caspian Sea, Chechnya was conquered by the Russians in the 1850s as the Russian empire pushed south toward the Middle East. Its people are largely Muslim and fiercely independent, and the region has been a constant irritant to its Russian and Soviet rulers.

In August 1991, Dzhozkhar Dudayev, a Chechen politician and former Soviet air force general, toppled Chechnya’s local communist government and established an anti-Russian autocratic state. President Yeltsin feared the secession of Chechnya would prompt a domino effect of independence movements within the vast Russian Federation. He also hoped to recover Chechnya’s valuable oil resources. After ineffective attempts at funding Chechen opposition groups, a Russian invasion began on December 11, 1994.

After the initial gains of the Russian army, the Chechen rebels demonstrated a fierce resistance in Grozny, and thousands of Russian troops died and many more Chechen civilians were killed during almost two years of heavy fighting. In August 1996, Grozny was retaken by the Chechen rebels after a year of Russian occupation, and a cease-fire was declared. In 1997, the last humiliated Russian troops left Chechnya. Despite a peace agreement that left Chechnya a de facto independent state, Chechnya remained officially part of Russia.

In 1999, Yeltsin’s government ordered a second invasion of Chechnya after bombings in Moscow and other cities were linked to Chechen militants. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin’s handpicked successor as Russian leader, said of the Chechen terrorists, “we will rub them out, even in the toilet.” In 2000, President Putin escalated Russian military involvement in Chechnya after terrorist bombings in Russian cities continued. In this second round of post-Soviet fighting in Chechnya, the Russian army has been accused of many atrocities in its efforts to suppress Chechen militancy. A peace agreement remains elusive.

Sugar Ray Leonard fights Roberto Duran for the third and final time

This Day in History - Fri, 12/07/2018 - 7:07am

On December 7, 1989, the boxer Sugar Ray Leonard triumphs over a lackluster Roberto Duran in a unanimous 12-round decision at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. Leonard became a sensation in the boxing world during the 1980s, providing a superstar presence that boxing lacked after Muhammad Ali retired in 1981. After a successful amateur career, Leonard earned real notice when he won a gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Three years later, he won the World Boxing Council (WBC) welterweight title over Wilfred Benitez.

In 1981, seeking to defend his title, Leonard met the Panamanian Roberto Duran, a former lightweight champion, in a much-anticipated bout held in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The more experienced Duran captured the title in a unanimous 15-round decision. On November 25, 1980, Duran and Leonard met in a rematch in New Orleans. After seven rounds, during which he outperformed Duran and continually taunted him, Leonard held a narrow lead on the judges’ scorecards. Duran quit in the eighth round of the bout, shocking his fans and leaving Leonard as welterweight champion once again. Leonard later suffered a detached retina and was inactive in the ring for nearly three years before returning to score an enormous upset over Martin Hagler for the middleweight title in 1987. In November 1988, he was knocked down but fought back to defeat Donny Lalonde for the WBC light heavyweight and super middleweight titles.

The match at the new Mirage Hotel on December 7, 1989, marked Leonard’s second defense of his super middleweight crown. Though 16,000 fans showed up to watch the much-hype third meeting between Leonard and Duran, they were greatly disappointed, as the 33-year-old Leonard won a tactically superior but unexciting bout over a lethargic 38-year-old Duran. In fact, fans booed both fighters throughout the match, and Duran’s lackluster performance did nothing to quell the controversy still swirling around his decision to quit in New Orleans almost a decade earlier.

Delaware ratifies the Constitution

This Day in History - Fri, 12/07/2018 - 7:04am

On this day in 1787, Delaware becomes the first state to ratify the Constitution, doing so by a unanimous vote.

This momentous event occurred exactly one year after the Hampshire Herald published a statement by Thomas Grover listing the demands made by the participants in Shays’ Rebellion. The post-war economy left farmers of western Massachusetts and throughout the 13 states in distress. Many were unable to pay debts with the worthless paper money issued by state governments. Captain Daniel Shays, a Continental Army veteran, led an attack on the federal arsenal in Springfield, Massachusetts, as part of an effort to close the courts where debt lawyers sued debtors. Volunteers put down the rebellion, but wealthy men throughout the new states were terrified that such a revolt might be repeated. To further their fears, Shays-ite candidates swept the Massachusetts legislature in the next election.

Debtors’ uprisings like Shays’ Rebellion were a significant impetus for the Philadelphia convention to strengthen the American union. Alexander Hamilton first called for discussions on revising the Articles of Confederation based on improving economic relations in the new republic. The process began in a hurried and extra-legal manner. The Constitutional Convention’s dictate that the new Constitution would come into effect after merely nine states ratified was strictly illegal under the Articles, which demanded unanimity among the states for amendments to take effect. The drafters wanted to take action quickly before the nation was irreversibly fractured.

Delaware’s ratification indicated that the states were indeed willing to consider an extra-legal document drafted behind closed doors. In many ways, the ratification process was a sort of second American revolution and Delaware’s unanimous vote accurately foretold that it would take place without bloodshed.

Pearl Harbor bombed

This Day in History - Fri, 12/07/2018 - 6:57am

At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.

On December 7, 1941 the Japanese military launched a surprise attack on the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor. The attack killed 2,403 service members and wounded 1,178 more, and sank or destroyed six U.S. ships. They also destroyed 169 U.S. Navy and Army Air Corps planes.

View the 17 images of this gallery on the original article

With diplomatic negotiations with Japan breaking down, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers knew that an imminent Japanese attack was probable, but nothing had been done to increase security at the important naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday morning, and many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off base. At 7:02 a.m., two radar operators spotted large groups of aircraft in flight toward the island from the north, but, with a flight of B-17s expected from the United States at the time, they were told to sound no alarm. Thus, the Japanese air assault came as a devastating surprise to the naval base.

Much of the Pacific fleet was rendered useless: Five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded, many while valiantly attempting to repulse the attack. Japan’s losses were some 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men. Fortunately for the United States, all three Pacific fleet carriers were out at sea on training maneuvers. These giant aircraft carriers would have their revenge against Japan six months later at the Battle of Midway, reversing the tide against the previously invincible Japanese navy in a spectacular victory.

The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” After a brief and forceful speech, he asked Congress to approve a resolution recognizing the state of war between the United States and Japan. The Senate voted for war against Japan by 82 to 0, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 388 to 1. The sole dissenter was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States, and the U.S. government responded in kind.

The American contribution to the successful Allied war effort spanned four long years and cost more than 400,000 American lives.

Irish Free State declared

This Day in History - Thu, 12/06/2018 - 7:09am

The Irish Free State, comprising four-fifths of Ireland, is declared, ending a five-year Irish struggle for independence from Britain. Like other autonomous nations of the former British Empire, Ireland was to remain part of the British Commonwealth, symbolically subject to the king. The Irish Free State later severed ties with Britain and was renamed Eire, and is now called the Republic of Ireland.

English rule over the island of Ireland dates back to the 12th century, and Queen Elizabeth I of England encouraged the large-scale immigration of Scottish Protestants in the 16th century. During ensuing centuries, a series of rebellions by Irish Catholics were put down as the Anglo-Irish minority extended their domination over the Catholic majority. Under absentee landlords, the Irish population was reduced to a subsistence diet based on potatoes, and when the Potato Famine struck the country in the 1840s, one million people starved to death while nearly two million more fled to the United States.

A movement for Irish home rule gained momentum in the late 19th century, and in 1916 Irish nationalists launched the Easter Rising against British rule in Dublin. The rebellion was crushed, but widespread agitation for independence continued. In 1919, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) launched a widespread and effective guerrilla campaign against British forces. In 1921, a cease-fire was declared, and in January 1922 a faction of Irish nationalists signed a peace treaty with Britain, calling for the partition of Ireland, with the south becoming autonomous and the six northern counties of the island remaining in the United Kingdom.

Civil war broke out even before the declaration of the Irish Free State on December 6, 1922, and ended with the victory of the Irish Free State over the Irish Republican forces in 1923. A constitution adopted by the Irish people in 1937 declared Ireland to be “a sovereign, independent, democratic state,” and the Irish Free State was renamed Eire. Eire remained neutral during World War II, and in 1949 the Republic of Ireland Act severed the last remaining link with the Commonwealth.

Conflicts persisted over Northern Ireland, however, and the IRA, outlawed in the south, went underground to try to regain the northern counties still ruled by Britain. Violence between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland escalated in the early 1970s, and to date the fighting has claimed more than 3,000 lives.

13th Amendment ratified

This Day in History - Thu, 12/06/2018 - 7:07am

On this day in 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, officially ending the institution of slavery, is ratified. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” With these words, the single greatest change wrought by the Civil War was officially noted in theConstitution.

The ratification came eight months after the end of the war, but it represented the culmination of the struggle against slavery. When the war began,some in the North were against fighting what they saw as a crusade to end slavery. Although many northern Democrats and conservative Republicans were opposed to slavery’s expansion, they were ambivalent about outlawing the institution entirely. The war’s escalation after the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia,in July 1861 caused many to rethink the role that slavery played in creating the conflict. By 1862, Lincoln realized that it was folly to wage such a bloody war without plans to eliminate slavery. In September 1862, following the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves in territory still in rebellion on January 1, 1863, would be declared forever free. The move was largely symbolic, as it only freed slaves in areas outside of Union control, but it changed the conlfict from a war for the reunification of the states to a war whose objectives includedthe destruction of slavery.

Lincoln believed that a constitutional amendment was necessary to ensure the end of slavery. In 1864, Congress debated several proposals. Some insisted on including provisions to prevent discrimination against blacks, but the Senate Judiciary Committee provided the eventual language. It borrowed from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, when slavery was banned from the area north of the Ohio River. The Senate passed the amendment in April 1864.

A Republican victory in the 1864 presidential election would guarantee the success of the amendment. The Republican platform called for the “utter and complete destruction” of slavery, while the Democrats favored restoration of states’ rights, which would include at least the possibility for the states to maintain slavery. Lincoln’s overwhelming victory set in motion the events leading to ratification of the amendment. The House passed the measure in January 1865 and it was sent to the states for ratification. When Georgia ratified it on December 6, 1865, the institution of slavery officially ceased to exist in the United States.

Nelson Mandela Passes Away at 95

This Day in History - Wed, 12/05/2018 - 7:56am

On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela, the former activist who overcame a nearly three-decade prison stint to become president of South Africa, passed away after years of struggling with health issues. He was 95.

"Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father," South African President Jacob Zuma said. "What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves."

Mandela was known as a freedom fighter, prisoner, civil rights leader, political leader and symbol of integrity and reconciliation not only for South Africa, but for the world.

His lifelong mission to end apartheid started when he left school early to join the the African National Congress (ANC). He rose quickly in the organization, and was elected president of the organization in 1950. It was in 1960 that Mandela’s efforts turned more militant, sparked when police opened fire on a group of unarmed protestors in the Sharpeville township, killing 69 people.

Soon after, the ANC was outlawed, but that didn’t stop Mandela. After the ban, he went underground to form a new, armed wing of the organization named “Spear of the Nation.” Through this group, which was also known as the MK, Mandela helped plan attacks on government institutions, like the post office.

The violent turn was not one he took lightly. “It would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and nonviolence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force,” he said about starting the more militant branch. “It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle.”

In 1962, Mandela secretly left South Africa, traveling around Africa and England to gain support. He also trained in Morocco and Ethiopia. When he returned, he was arrested and charged with illegal exit of the country and incitement to strike. He was then sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Instead of a testimony, he gave a four hours long speech, ending it by saying: "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

While he was in prison, a “Free Nelson Mandela” campaign fueled the outcry against the regime.

In 1990, newly elected president F. W. de Klerk made a shocking move that broke from the conservatives of his party, lifting the ban on the ANC—and all other formerly banned political parties—and calling for a non-racist South Africa. That February, de Klerk unconditionally released Mandela. The then 71-year-old walked out of prison, fist held above his head. He had served 27 years in prison.

After his release, Mandela resumed his leadership of the ANC in its negotiations for an end to apartheid. Incredibly, just four years after his release, on May 10, 1994, he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President.

As president, Mandela introduced social and economic programs and presided over the enactment of a new constitution that established a strong central government and prohibited discrimination. He also discouraged black South Africans from seeking revenge for the apartheid period, preaching kindness and forgiveness instead. Mandela only served one term in order to set an example for future leaders, but he remained in the nation’s consciousness until his death.

Dozens of officials world leaders expressed their grief over Mandela’s passing. The funeral and burial cap took place over 10 days of national mourning. On December 15, tribal leaders clad in animal skins stood alongside officials in dark suits as Mandela's coffin, which was draped with the South African flag, was buried in his childhood village of Qunu. 

George Custer born

This Day in History - Wed, 12/05/2018 - 6:42am

On this day in 1839, Union General George Armstrong Custer is born in Harrison County, Ohio. Although he is best known for his demise at the hands of the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Montana,in 1876, Custer built a reputation as a dashing and effective cavalry leader during the Civil War.

Custer entered West Point in 1857, where he earned low grades and numerous demerits for his mischievous behavior. He graduated last in the class of 1861. Despite his poor academic showing, Custer did not have to wait long to see military action. Less than two months after leaving West Point, Custer fought in the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia,in July 1861.

Custer served the entire war in the Army of the Potomac. He was present for nearly all of the army’s major battles, and became, at age 23, the youngest general in the Union army in June 1863. He led the Michigan cavalry brigade in General Judson Kilpatrick’s 3rd Cavalry Division. Shortly after his promotion, Custer and his “Wolverines” played a key role in stopping Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry attack, which helped preserve the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. As a leader, Custer earned the respect of his men because he personally led every charge in battle. Wrote one observer of Custer’s command, “So brave a man I never saw and as competent as brave. Under him a man is ashamed to be cowardly. Under him our men can achieve wonders.”

He achieved his greatest battlefield success in the campaigns of 1864. At the Battle of Yellow Tavern, Virginia, on May 11, 1864, Custer led the charge that resulted in the death of Stuart. One month later at Trevilian Station, Virginia, Custer’s command attacked a supply train before being surrounded by Confederate cavalry. His men formed a triangle and bravely held off the Rebels until help arrived. In October, Custer’s men scored a decisive victory over the Confederate cavalry at Tom’s Brook in the Shenandoah Valley, the most one-sided Yankee cavalry victory of the war in the East.

Custer was demoted to lieutenant colonel in the downsizing that took place after the Civil War ended. He was much less effective in his postwar assignments fighting Native Americans, and his reckless assault on the camp at Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876, led to his death and earned him an unsavory reputation that overshadowed his earlier success in the Civil War.

Prohibition ends

This Day in History - Wed, 12/05/2018 - 6:40am

The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and bringing an end to the era of national prohibition of alcohol in America. At 5:32 p.m. EST, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, achieving the requisite three-fourths majority of states’ approval. Pennsylvania and Ohio had ratified it earlier in the day.

The movement for the prohibition of alcohol began in the early 19th century, when Americans concerned about the adverse effects of drinking began forming temperance societies. By the late 19th century, these groups had become a powerful political force, campaigning on the state level and calling for national liquor abstinence. Several states outlawed the manufacture or sale of alcohol within their own borders. In December 1917, the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes,” was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. On January 29, 1919, the 18th Amendment achieved the necessary three-fourths majority of state ratification. Prohibition essentially began in June of that year, but the amendment did not officially take effect until January 29, 1920.

In the meantime, Congress passed the Volstead Act on October 28, 1919, over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. The Volstead Act provided for the enforcement of Prohibition, including the creation of a special Prohibition unit of the Treasury Department. In its first six months, the unit destroyed thousands of illicit stills run by bootleggers. However, federal agents and police did little more than slow the flow of booze, and organized crime flourished in America. Large-scale bootleggers like Al Capone of Chicago built criminal empires out of illegal distribution efforts, and federal and state governments lost billions in tax revenue. In most urban areas, the individual consumption of alcohol was largely tolerated and drinkers gathered at “speakeasies,” the Prohibition-era term for saloons.

Prohibition, failing fully to enforce sobriety and costing billions, rapidly lost popular support in the early 1930s. In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed and ratified, ending national Prohibition. After the repeal of the 18th Amendment, some states continued Prohibition by maintaining statewide temperance laws. Mississippi, the last dry state in the Union, ended Prohibition in 1966.

Aircraft squadron lost in the Bermuda Triangle

This Day in History - Wed, 12/05/2018 - 6:37am

At 2:10 p.m., five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo-bombers comprising Flight 19 take off from the Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station in Florida on a routine three-hour training mission. Flight 19 was scheduled to take them due east for 120 miles, north for 73 miles, and then back over a final 120-mile leg that would return them to the naval base. They never returned.

Two hours after the flight began, the leader of the squadron, who had been flying in the area for more than six months, reported that his compass and back-up compass had failed and that his position was unknown. The other planes experienced similar instrument malfunctions. Radio facilities on land were contacted to find the location of the lost squadron, but none were successful. After two more hours of confused messages from the fliers, a distorted radio transmission from the squadron leader was heard at 6:20 p.m., apparently calling for his men to prepare to ditch their aircraft simultaneously because of lack of fuel.

By this time, several land radar stations finally determined that Flight 19 was somewhere north of the Bahamas and east of the Florida coast, and at 7:27 p.m. a search and rescue Mariner aircraft took off with a 13-man crew. Three minutes later, the Mariner aircraft radioed to its home base that its mission was underway. The Mariner was never heard from again. Later, there was a report from a tanker cruising off the coast of Florida of a visible explosion seen at 7:50 p.m.

The disappearance of the 14 men of Flight 19 and the 13 men of the Mariner led to one of the largest air and seas searches to that date, and hundreds of ships and aircraft combed thousands of square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and remote locations within the interior of Florida. No trace of the bodies or aircraft was ever found.

Although naval officials maintained that the remains of the six aircraft and 27 men were not found because stormy weather destroyed the evidence, the story of the “Lost Squadron” helped cement the legend of the Bermuda Triangle, an area of the Atlantic Ocean where ships and aircraft are said to disappear without a trace. The Bermuda Triangle is said to stretch from the southern U.S. coast across to Bermuda and down to the Atlantic coast of Cuba and Santo Domingo.

Hostage Terry Anderson freed in Lebanon

This Day in History - Tue, 12/04/2018 - 8:45am

On this day in 1991, Islamic militants in Lebanon release kidnapped American journalist Terry Anderson after 2,454 days in captivity.

As chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, Anderson covered the long-running civil war in Lebanon (1975-1990). On March 16, 1985, he was kidnapped on a west Beirut street while leaving a tennis court. His captors took him to the southern suburbs of the city, where he was held prisoner in an underground dungeon for the next six-and-a-half years.

Anderson was one of 92 foreigners (including 17 Americans) abducted during Lebanon’s bitter civil war. The kidnappings were linked to Hezbollah, or the Party of God, a militant Shiite Muslim organization formed in 1982 in reaction to Israel’s military presence in Lebanon. They seized several Americans, including Anderson, soon after Kuwaiti courts jailed 17 Shiites found guilty of bombing the American and French embassies there in 1983. Hezbollah in Lebanon received financial and spiritual support from Iran, where prominent leaders praised the bombers and kidnappers for performing their duty to Islam.

U.S. relations with Iran–and with Syria, the other major foreign influence in Lebanon–showed signs of improving by 1990, when the civil war drew to a close, aided by Syria’s intervention on behalf of the Lebanese army. Eager to win favor from the U.S. in order to promote its own economic goals, Iran used its influence in Lebanon to engineer the release of nearly all the hostages over the course of 1991.

Anderson returned to the U.S. and was reunited with his family, including his daughter Suleme, born three months after his capture. In 1999, he sued the Iranian government for $100 million, accusing it of sponsoring his kidnappers; he received a multi-million dollar settlement.

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