Today in History

Today is Monday, Dec. 17, the 352nd day of 2012. There are 14 days left in the year.

Today’s highlight:

On Dec. 17, 1992, President George H.W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in separate ceremonies. (After approval by the legislative bodies of the leaders’ respective countries, the treaty came into force on Jan. 1, 1994.)

On this date:

In 1777, France recognized American independence.

In 1830, South American patriot Simon Bolivar died in Colombia.

In 1865, Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, the “Unfinished” (because only two of its movements were completed) was performed publicly for the first time in Vienna, 37 years after the composer’s death.

In 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright of Dayton, Ohio, conducted the first successful manned powered-airplane flights near Kitty Hawk, N.C., using their experimental craft, the Wright Flyer.

In 1925, Col. William “Billy” Mitchell was convicted at his court-martial in Washington of insubordination for accusing senior military officials of incompetence and criminal negligence; he was suspended from active duty.

In 1939, the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee was scuttled by its crew, ending the World War II Battle of the River Plate off Uruguay.

In 1944, the U.S. Army announced it was ending its policy of excluding Japanese-Americans from the West Coast.

In 1957, the United States successfully test-fired the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time.

In 1961, an arson fire at a circus in Niteroi, Brazil, killed 323 people.

In 1975, Lynette Fromme was sentenced in Sacramento, Calif., to life in prison for her attempt on the life of President Gerald R. Ford. (She was paroled in Aug. 2009.)

In 1979, in a case that aggravated racial tensions, Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance executive, was fatally injured after leading police on a chase with his motorcycle in Miami. (Four white police officers accused of beating McDuffie were later acquitted, sparking riots.)

In 1981, members of the Red Brigades kidnapped Brig. Gen. James L. Dozier, the highest-ranking U.S. Army official in southern Europe, from his home in Verona, Italy. (Dozier was rescued 42 days later.)

Ten years ago: Insurance and finance company Conseco Inc. filed for Chapter 11 (Conseco emerged from bankruptcy protection the following year). The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rebels and opposition parties signed a peace agreement to end four years of civil war. Playwright Frederick Knott, who wrote “Dial M For Murder” and “Wait Until Dark,” died in New York City at age 86.

Five years ago: President George W. Bush, addressing a Rotary Club meeting, tried to reassure an edgy public that the economy was “pretty good” despite the mix of a failing housing market, a national credit crunch and surging energy costs. Iran received its first nuclear fuel from Russia, paving the way for the startup of its reactor. Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed a measure making New Jersey the first state to abolish the death penalty in more than 40 years. NBC announced that Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien were planning to return to their late-night shows in early 2008, even as the writers’ strike continued.

One year ago: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died after more than a decade of iron rule; he was 69, according to official records, but some reports indicated he was 70. Advocates for immigrants gathered outside Alabama’s state Capitol in Montgomery to call for repeal of a controversial law they said harkened back to the state’s segregationist past.

Associated Press

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