Potsdam Conference concludes

The last wartime conference of the “Big Three”—the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain—concludes after two weeks of intense and sometimes acrimonious debate. The conference failed to settle most of the important issues at hand and thus helped set the stage for the Cold War that would begin shortly after World War II came to an end.

READ MORE: FDR, Churchill and Stalin: Inside Their Uneasy WWII Alliance

The meeting at Potsdam was the third conference between the leaders of the Big Three nations. The Soviet Union was represented by Joseph Stalin, Britain by Winston Churchill, and the United States by President Harry S. Truman. This was Truman’s first Big Three meeting. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died in April 1945, attended the first two conferences—in Tehran in 1943 and Yalta in February 1945.

At the Potsdam meeting, the most pressing issue was the postwar fate of Germany. The Soviets wanted a unified Germany, but they also insisted that Germany be completely disarmed. Truman, along with a growing number of U.S. officials, had deep suspicions about Soviet intentions in Europe. The massive Soviet army already occupied much of Eastern Europe. A strong Germany might be the only obstacle in the way of Soviet domination of all of Europe. In the end, the Big Three agreed to divide Germany into three zones of occupation (one for each nation), and to defer discussions of German reunification until a later date. The other notable issue at Potsdam was one that was virtually unspoken. Just as he arrived for the conference, Truman was informed that the United States had successfully tested the first atomic bomb. Hoping to use the weapon as leverage with the Soviets in the postwar world, Truman casually mentioned to Stalin that America was now in possession of a weapon of monstrously destructive force. The president was disappointed when the Soviet leader merely responded that he hoped the United States would use it to bring the war with Japan to a speedy end.

The Potsdam Conference ended on a somber note. By the time it was over, Truman had become even more convinced that he had to adopt a tough policy toward the Soviets. Stalin had come to believe more strongly that the United States and Great Britain were conspiring against the Soviet Union. As for Churchill, he was not present for the closing ceremonies. His party lost in the elections in England, and he was replaced midway through the conference by the new prime minister, Clement Attlee. Potsdam was the last postwar conference of the Big Three.

READ MORE: How the ‘Big Three’ Teed Up the Cold War at the 1945 Yalta Conference

Delegates sign Declaration of Independence

On August 2, 1776, members of Congress affix their signatures to an enlarged copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Fifty-six congressional delegates in total signed the document, including some who were not present at the vote approving the declaration. The delegates signed by state from North to South, beginning with Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire and ending with George Walton of Georgia. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and James Duane, Robert Livingston and John Jay of New York refused to sign. Carter Braxton of Virginia; Robert Morris of Pennsylvania; George Reed of Delaware; and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina opposed the document but signed in order to give the impression of a unanimous Congress. Five delegates were absent: Generals George Washington, John Sullivan, James Clinton and Christopher Gadsden and Virginia Governor Patrick Henry.

Exactly one month before the signing of the document, Congress had accepted a resolution put forward by Richard Henry Lee that stated “Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

Congress adopted the more poetic Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, two days later, on July 4. The president of Congress, John Hancock, and its secretary, Charles Thompson, immediately signed the handwritten draft, which was dispatched to nearby printers. On July 19, Congress decided to produce a handwritten copy to bear all the delegates’ signatures. Secretary Thompson’s assistant, Philadelphia Quaker and merchant Timothy Matlack, penned the draft.

News of the Declaration of Independence arrived in London eight days later, on August 10. The draft bearing the delegates’ signatures was first printed on January 18 of the following year by Baltimore printer Mary Katharine Goddard.

READ MORE: Writing of the Declaration of Independence 

Wild Bill Hickok is murdered

“Wild Bill” Hickok, one of the greatest gunfighters of the American West, is murdered in Deadwood, South Dakota.

Born in Illinois in 1837, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok first gained notoriety as a gunfighter in 1861 when he coolly shot three men who were trying to kill him. A highly sensationalized account of the gunfight appeared six years later in the popular periodical Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, sparking Hickok’s rise to national fame. Other articles and books followed, and though his prowess was often exaggerated, Hickok did earn his reputation with a string of impressive gunfights.

After accidentally killing his deputy during an 1871 shootout in Abilene, Kansas, Hickok never fought another gun battle. For the next several years he lived off his famous reputation. Occasionally, he worked as guide for wealthy hunters. His renowned eyesight began to fail, and for a time he was reduced to wandering the West trying to make a living as a gambler. Several times he was arrested for vagrancy.

In the spring of 1876, Hickok arrived in the Black Hills mining town of Deadwood, South Dakota. There he became a regular at the poker tables of the No. 10 Saloon, eking out a meager existence as a card player. On this day in 1876, Hickok was playing cards with his back to the saloon door. At 4:15 in the afternoon, a young gunslinger named Jack McCall walked into the saloon, approached Hickok from behind, and shot him in the back of the head. Hickok died immediately. McCall tried to shoot others in the crowd, but amazingly, all of the remaining cartridges in his pistol were duds. McCall was later tried, convicted, and hanged.

READ MORE: The Original Wild West Showdown

Sudden thunderstorm causes plane crash

On August 2, 1985, strong and sudden wind gusts cause a plane crash at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in Texas that kills 135 people. The rapid and unexpected formation of a supercell, an extremely violent form of thunderstorm, led to the tragedy.

Delta Flight 191 left Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the afternoon, headed for Dallas, Texas. The passengers aboard the Lockheed L-1011 enjoyed a completely normal flight until they approached the Dallas area. Summer afternoons in central Texas often include thunderstorms and August 2 proved to be a typical day in this respect. Flight 191 moved around a large storm on its original flight path and ended up coming in due south toward runway 17.

The crew of 191 saw lightning north of the airport, but did not abort the landing. As the plane flew into strong headwinds, the pilot slowed the thrust, expecting an updraft to hold the plane’s altitude. Instead, there was a sudden downward wind shear, with a blast of wind from the tail. The Lockheed plane is relatively heavy and was not able to thrust quickly in response. The pilot lost control of the plane and it hit the ground 6,000 feet short of the runway.

The plane hit a car, killing the driver, and then skidded into two water tanks. One hundred thirty-five people lost their lives and another 15 suffered serious injury in the crash. The subsequent investigation revealed that the weather had changed drastically in the eight minutes prior to the crash. A fast-growing supercell formation had caused unpredictable winds. The pilots also should have been more prudent, given what they could see of the developing storm as they approached the airport.

Today, improvements in technology help to monitor the progression and location of storms like the one that downed Flight 191.

Man murdered near L.A. reservoir

On August 2, 1942, Jose Diaz is murdered, and his body is found at the Sleepy Lagoon reservoir, near Los Angeles, California. Two days later, police began to round up and arrest 22 men of Mexican descent in the Los Angeles area for conspiring to kill Diaz. Despite a lack of evidence, the 22 men were eventually prosecuted for beating Diaz to death. The trial and subsequent convictions characterized a period of racial prejudice and injustice in Los Angeles during World War II.

Media coverage surrounding the trial was particularly troubling. The Los Angeles Examiner referred to young Mexican Americans as “hoodlums.” A captain from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s office told a grand jury that Mexicans had a “biological tendency” to be violent since they were descendants of Indian tribes who practiced human sacrifice. He went on to say that they had a “total disregard for human life” and an inbred “desire to use a knife or some lethal weapon. In other words, [a Mexican’s] desire is to kill, or at least, let blood.”

Despite the concerted efforts of a defense committee that had been put together by liberal activists and Hollywood actors, 17 of the accused were convicted and 12 were sent to San Quentin prison.

Over the course of the following year, hostility between white people and Hispanics became so inflamed by the press, police, and city officials that the so-called “Zoot Suit Riots” broke out the next summer. Allegedly, about a dozen sailors had been attacked by a group of Mexicans wearing zoot suits-long coats with exaggerated shoulder pads and loose pleated pants. On June 3, 1943, 50 Navy sailors responded to the assault by combing the streets in cabs, stopping to beat anyone wearing the popular Hispanic outfit. By the next day, hundreds more sailors had joined in the hunt. These unprovoked attacks continued for several days. On June 7, The Los Angeles Examiner reported that Mexicans would be out to retaliate, causing a civilian panic. The following day, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance that made wearing a zoot suit a misdemeanor.

Finally, on June 8, U.S. military commanders restricted military personnel to their bases in Los Angeles, and the turmoil ended. A court of appeals eventually overturned the convictions of all 12 of the defendants in the Sleepy Lagoon case, and they were released after two years in prison.

READ MORE: What Were the Zoot Suit Riots?

CSS Shenandoah learns the war is over

The captain and crew of the C.S.S. Shenandoah, still prowling the waters of the Pacific in search of Yankee whaling ships, is finally informed by a British vessel that the South has lost the war.

The Shenandoah was the last major Confederate cruiser to set sail. Launched as a British vessel in September 1863, it was purchased by the Confederates and commissioned in October 1864. The 230-foot-long craft was armed with eight large guns and a crew of 73 sailors. Commanded by Captain James I. Waddell, the Shenandoah steered toward the Pacific and targeted Yankee whaling ships. Waddell enjoyed great success, taking six ships in the South Pacific before slipping into Melbourne, Australia, for repairs in January 1865.

Within a month, the Shenandoah was back on the loose, wreaking havoc in the waters around Alaska. The Rebel ship captured 32 additional Union vessels, most of which were burned. The damage was estimated at $1.6 million, a staggering figure in such a short period of time. Although the crew heard rumors that the Confederate armies had surrendered, Waddell continued to fight. He finally accepted an English captain’s report on August 2, 1865. The Shenandoah pulled off another remarkable feat by sailing from the northern Pacific all the way to Liverpool, England, without stopping at any ports. Arriving on November 6, Waddell surrendered his ship to British officials.