“A Christmas Carol” is published


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Year
1843
Month Day
December 19

On December 19, 1843, Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol” is published.

Dickens was born in 1812 and attended school in Portsmouth. His father, a clerk in the navy pay office, was thrown into debtors’ prison in 1824, and 12-year-old Charles was sent to work in a factory. The miserable treatment of children and the institution of the debtors’ jail became topics of several of Dickens’ novels.

In his late teens, Dickens became a reporter and started publishing humorous short stories when he was 21. In 1836, a collection of his stories, Sketches by Boz, later known as The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, was published. The same year, he married Catherine Hogarth, with whom he would have nine children. The short sketches in his collection were originally commissioned as captions for humorous drawings by caricature artist Robert Seymour, but Dickens’ whimsical stories about the kindly Samuel Pickwick and his fellow club members soon became popular in their own right. Only 400 copies were printed of the first installment, but by the 15th episode 40,000 copies were printed. When the stories were published in book form in 1837, Dickens quickly became the most popular author of the day.

READ MORE: Charles Dickens Wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’ in Only Six Weeks

The success of the Pickwick Papers was soon reproduced with Oliver Twist (1838) and Nicholas Nickleby (1839). In 1841, Dickens published two more novels, then spent five months in the United States, where he was welcomed as a literary hero. Dickens never lost momentum as a writer, churning out major novels every year or two, often in serial form. Among his most important works are David Copperfield (1850), Great Expectations (1861), and A Tale of Two Cities (1859).

Beginning in 1850, he published his own weekly circular of fiction, poetry, and essays called Household Words. In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife and began a long affair with a young actress. He gave frequent readings, which became immensely popular. He died in 1870 at the age of 58, with his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, still unfinished.

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Britain agrees to return Hong Kong to China


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Year
1984
Month Day
December 19

In the Hall of the People in Beijing, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang sign an agreement committing Britain to return Hong Kong to China in 1997 in return for terms guaranteeing a 50-year extension of its capitalist system. Hong Kong–a small peninsula and group of islands jutting out from China’s Kwangtung province–was leased by China to Great Britain in 1898 for 99 years.

In 1839, in the First Opium War, Britain invaded China to crush opposition to its interference in the country’s economic, social, and political affairs. One of Britain’s first acts of war was to occupy Hong Kong, a sparsely inhabited island off the coast of southeast China. In 1841, China ceded the island to the British with the signing of the Convention of Chuenpi, and in 1842 the Treaty of Nanking was signed, formally ending the First Opium War. At the end of the Second Opium War (1856-1860), China was forced to cede the Kowloon Peninsula, adjacent to Hong Kong Island, along with other area islands.

Britain’s new colony flourished as an East-West trading center and as the commercial gateway and distribution center for southern China. On July 1, 1898, Britain was granted an additional 99 years of rule over the Hong Kong colony under the Second Convention of Peking. Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese from 1941 to 1944 during World War II but remained in British hands throughout the various Chinese political upheavals of the 20th century.

On December 19, 1984, after years of negotiations, British and Chinese leaders signed a formal pact approving the 1997 turnover of the colony in exchange for the formulation of a “one country, two systems” policy by China’s communist government. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called the agreement “a landmark in the life of the territory, in the course of Anglo-Chinese relations, and in the history of international diplomacy.” Hu Yaobang, the Chinese Communist Party’s secretary-general, called the signing “a red-letter day, an occasion of great joy” for China’s one billion people.

At midnight on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was peaceably handed over to China in a ceremony attended by numerous international dignitaries, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. A few thousand citizens of Hong Kong protested the turnover, which was otherwise celebratory and peaceful. The chief executive of the new Hong Kong government, Tung Chee Hwa, did enact a policy based upon the concept of one country, two systems, thus preserving Hong Kong’s role as a principal capitalist center in Asia. 

Massive anti-government protests in Hong Kong began in June 2019, when more than 1 million people marched to protest a bill that would allow the extradition of people to mainland China to stand trial. The bill was later dropped, but anti-government unrest remains. 

READ MORE: How Hong Kong Came Under ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Rule

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President Clinton impeached


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Year
1998
Month Day
December 19

After nearly 14 hours of debate, the House of Representatives approves two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, charging him with lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. Clinton, the second president in American history to be impeached, vowed to finish his term.

In November 1995, Clinton began an affair with Monica Lewinsky, a 21-year-old unpaid intern. Over the course of a year and a half, the president and Lewinsky had nearly a dozen sexual encounters in the White House. In April 1996, Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon. That summer, she first confided in Pentagon co-worker Linda Tripp about her sexual relationship with the president. In 1997, with the relationship over, Tripp began secretly to record conversations with Lewinsky, in which Lewinsky gave Tripp details about the affair.

READ MORE: Impeachment: Presidents, Process & History

In December, lawyers for Paula Jones, who was suing the president on sexual harassment charges, subpoenaed Lewinsky. In January 1998, allegedly under the recommendation of the president, Lewinsky filed an affidavit in which she denied ever having had a sexual relationship with him. Five days later, Tripp contacted the office of Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel, to talk about Lewinsky and the tapes she made of their conversations. Tripp, wired by FBI agents working with Starr, met with Lewinsky again, and on January 16, Lewinsky was taken by FBI agents and U.S. attorneys to a hotel room where she was questioned and offered immunity if she cooperated with the prosecution. A few days later, the story broke, and Clinton publicly denied the allegations, saying, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.”

In late July, lawyers for Lewinsky and Starr worked out a full-immunity agreement covering both Lewinsky and her parents, all of whom Starr had threatened with prosecution. On August 6, Lewinsky appeared before the grand jury to begin her testimony, and on August 17 President Clinton testified. Contrary to his testimony in the Paula Jones sexual-harassment case, President Clinton acknowledged to prosecutors from the office of the independent counsel that he had had an extramarital affair with Ms. Lewinsky.

READ MORE: Why Clinton Survived Impeachment While Nixon Resigned After Watergate

In four hours of closed-door testimony, conducted in the Map Room of the White House, Clinton spoke live via closed-circuit television to a grand jury in a nearby federal courthouse. He was the first sitting president ever to testify before a grand jury investigating his conduct. That evening, President Clinton also gave a four-minute televised address to the nation in which he admitted he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky. In the brief speech, which was wrought with legalisms, the word “sex” was never spoken, and the word “regret” was used only in reference to his admission that he misled the public and his family.

Less than a month later, on September 9, Kenneth Starr submitted his report and 18 boxes of supporting documents to the House of Representatives. Released to the public two days later, the Starr Report outlined a case for impeaching Clinton on 11 grounds, including perjury, obstruction of justice, witness-tampering, and abuse of power, and also provided explicit details of the sexual relationship between the president and Ms. Lewinsky. On October 8, the House authorized a wide-ranging impeachment inquiry, and on December 11, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment. On December 19, the House impeached Clinton.

READ MORE: Watergate Scandal: Timeline, Summary & Deep Throat

On January 7, 1999, in a congressional procedure not seen since the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, the trial of President Clinton got underway in the Senate. As instructed in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (William Rehnquist at this time) was sworn in to preside, and the senators were sworn in as jurors.

Five weeks later, on February 12, the Senate voted on whether to remove Clinton from office. The president was acquitted on both articles of impeachment. The prosecution needed a two-thirds majority to convict but failed to achieve even a bare majority. Rejecting the first charge of perjury, 45 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted “not guilty,” and on the charge of obstruction of justice the Senate was split 50-50. After the trial concluded, President Clinton said he was “profoundly sorry” for the burden his behavior imposed on Congress and the American people.

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National Hockey League (NHL) opens its first season


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Year
1917
Month Day
December 19

On December 19, 1917, four teams of the National Hockey League (NHL) play in the fledgling league’s first two games. At the time of its inception, the NHL was made up of five franchises: the Canadiens and the Wanderers (both of Montreal), the Ottawa Senators, the Quebec Bulldogs and the Toronto Arenas. The Montreal teams won two victories that first day, as the Canadiens beat Ottawa 7-4 and the Wanderers triumphed over Toronto 10-9.

The first professional ice hockey league was the International Pro Hockey League, founded in 1904 in Michigan. After it folded, two bigger leagues emerged in Canada: the National Hockey Association (NHA) and the Pacific Coast League (PCL). In 1914, the two leagues played a championship series, and the winner was awarded the famous silver bowl donated for Canada’s amateur hockey leagues by Lord Stanley, the English governor general of Canada, in 1892. The NHA stopped operating during World War I, and after the war the five elite teams from Canada formed the NHL in its place. Despite that early defeat, Toronto went on to win the inaugural season. In March 1918, they defeated the PCL champions, the Vancouver Millionaires, three games to two for the Stanley Cup.

By 1926, the PCL had folded, and the 10 teams of the NHL divided into two divisions. The champions of each those two divisions–the Eastern and the Western Conference–now face each other at the end of each season in the Stanley Cup Championship.

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Last lunar-landing mission ends


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Year
1972
Month Day
December 19

The Apollo lunar-landing program ends on December 19, 1972, when the last three astronauts to travel to the moon splash down safely in the Pacific Ocean. Apollo 17 had lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, 10 days before.

In July 1969, after three years of preparation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) accomplished President John F. Kennedy’s goal of putting a man on the moon and safely returning him to Earth with Apollo 11. From 1969 to 1972, there were six successful lunar landing missions, and one aborted mission, Apollo 13. During the Apollo 17 mission, astronauts Eugene A. Cernan and Harrison H. Schmitt stayed for a record 75 hours on the surface of the moon, conducting three separate surface excursions in the Lunar Rover vehicle and collecting 243 pounds of rock and soil samples.

Although Apollo 17 was the last lunar landing, the last official Apollo mission was conducted in July 1975, when an Apollo spacecraft successfully rendezvoused and docked with the Soviet Soyuz 19 spacecraft in orbit around the Earth. It was fitting that the Apollo program, which first visited the moon under the banner of “We came in peace for all mankind,” should end on a note of peace and international cooperation.

READ MORE: The Wildest Moon Landing Conspiracy Theories

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Continental Army enters winter camp at Valley Forge


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Year
1777
Month Day
December 19

With the onset of the bitter winter cold, the Continental Army under General George Washington, still in the field, enters its winter camp at Valley Forge, 22 miles from British-occupied Philadelphia. Washington chose a site on the west bank of the Schuylkill River that could be effectively defended in the event of a British attack.

During 1777, Patriot forces under General Washington suffered major defeats against the British at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown; Philadelphia, the capital of the United States, fell into British hands. The particularly severe winter of 1777-1778 proved to be a great trial for the American army, and of the 11,000 soldiers stationed at Valley Forge, hundreds died from disease. However, the suffering troops were held together by loyalty to the Patriot cause and to General Washington, who stayed with his men. As the winter stretched on, Prussian military adviser Frederick von Steuben kept the soldiers busy with drills and training in modern military strategy.

When Washington’s army marched out of Valley Forge on June 19, 1778, the men were better disciplined and stronger in spirit than when they had entered. Nine days later, they won a victory against the British under Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey.

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Washington leads troops into winter quarters at Valley Forge


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Year
1777
Month Day
December 19

On this day in 1777, commander of the Continental Army George Washington, the future first president of the United States, leads his beleaguered troops into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Things could hardly have looked bleaker for Washington and the Continental Army as 1777 came to a close. The British had successfully occupied Philadelphia, leading some members of Congress to question Washington’s leadership abilities. No one knew better than Washington that the army was on the brink of collapse–in fact, he had defied Congress’ demand that he launch a mid-winter attack against the British at Philadelphia and instead fell back to Valley Forge to rest and refit his troops. Though he had hoped to provide his weary men with more nutritious food and badly needed winter clothing, Congress had been unable to provide money for fresh supplies. That Christmas Eve, the troops dined on a meal of rice and vinegar, and were forced to bind their bleeding frost-bitten feet with rags. “We have experienced little less than a famine in camp,” Washington wrote to Patrick Henry the following February.

Desperate to keep the army intact, Washington tried to stem desertion by resorting to lashings as punishment and then threatening to shoot deserters on sight. For those soldiers who remained with him, Washington expressed deep gratitude and awe. He described men marching without clothes, blankets or shoes–leaving bloody trails in the snow–who displayed “patience and obedience which in my opinion can scarce be paralel’d.”

Meanwhile Washington faced the displeasure of Congress and rumors of plots to replace him with his typical stoicism and composure. On December 31, he wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette that he would continue “to observe one steady and uniform conduct, which I shall invariably pursue, while I have the honour to command, regardless of the Tongue of slander or the powers of detraction.” Furthermore, he told the press that if Congress could find someone better suited to lead the army that he would be more than happy to resign and return to private life at his Mount Vernon estate.

The winter at Valley Forge might have signaled the end of the American Revolution. Fortunately for the Continentals though, Washington did not give up. During this time Washington made several key additions to his officer corps, such as the Prussian General Friedrich von Steuben, who was tasked with implementing a new training regimen, and Nathanael Greene, who served as quartermaster general, relieving Washington of the duty of supply procurement. Washington, supported by a loyal officer corps, was now free to focus on strategies to beat the British. He was further buoyed by France’s agreement to join the revolutionaries in February 1778. (Washington was so happy with the news from his “powerful friend” France that, upon hearing the news, he pardoned two of his own soldiers who were awaiting execution for desertion.)

Once Washington’s detractors in Congress realized they could not sway his troops’ loyalty, they gave up on any secret plans to replace him. In March 1778, Washington led his troops, their bodies and supplies replenished and their confidence restored, out of Valley Forge to face the British again.

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Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack” is published


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Year
1732
Month Day
December 19

On December 19, 1732, Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia first published Poor Richard’s Almanack. The book, filled with proverbs preaching industry and prudence, was published continuously for 25 years and became one of the most popular publications in colonial America, selling an average of 10,000 copies a year.

Franklin was born in Boston in 1706 and was apprenticed to his brother, a printer, at age 12. In 1729, Franklin became the official printer of currency for the colony of Pennsylvania. He began publishing Poor Richard’s, as well as the Pennsylvania Gazette, one of the colonies’ first and best newspapers. By 1748, Franklin had become more interested in inventions and science than publishing. He spent time in London representing Pennsylvania in its dispute with England and later spent time in France. He returned to America in March 1775, with war on the horizon. He served on the Second Continental Congress and helped draft the Declaration of Independence. He was also instrumental in persuading the French to lend military assistance to the colonies. He died in Philadelphia in 1790.

READ MORE: 11 Surprising Facts About Benjamin Franklin

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“Titanic” sails into theaters


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Year
1997
Month Day
December 19

Director James Cameron’s epic drama Titanic, the story of the real-life luxury ocean liner that struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage in 1912, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,500 passengers and crew, opens in theaters. Titanic catapulted its young stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to international fame and won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Music (for the song “My Heart Will Go On,” sung by Celine Dion). The film also immortalized the line “I’m the king of the world!”–which Cameron famously repeated during the Oscar ceremony, as he picked up his gold statuette for Best Director.

Titanic centers around a love story, between Rose (Winslet), the reluctant bride-to-be of a rich snob, and Jack (DiCaprio), a working-class adventurer and artist. Although Rose and Jack are fictional, the main events and details of film are largely historically accurate and some of the characters in Titanic are based on real people–including the American millionaire John Jacob Astor and “new-money” socialite Molly Brown–who were onboard the supership on the night of April 14, 1912, when it went down in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic.

James Cameron, who also penned the Titanic screenplay, reportedly spent months researching the story of the luxury liner. In 1995, he hired two Russian submersibles and conducted a series of dives to shoot interior and exterior footage at the Titanic wreckage site, located off the coast of Nova Scotia. Much of Titanic was shot at a studio custom-built for Cameron near Rosarito Beach in Baja California, Mexico. A 770-foot replica of the Titanic was constructed and held in a 17 million-gallon tank. Manufacturers involved in producing supplies and furnishings for the original Titanic were reportedly consulted during construction of the replica, which was almost as large as the actual 10-story, 882-foot supership. Cameron’s quest to tell the story accurately was a massive undertaking and the project reportedly cost over $200 million, making it one of the most expensive in movie history.

Cameron, born on August 16, 1954, had his first major hit as the writer and director of 1984’s The Terminator, the movie that turned star Arnold Schwarzenegger into a household name. The famously temperamental Cameron went on to helm such hits as Aliens (1986), The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992), True Lies (1994) and Avatar (2009).

DiCaprio, who was born on November 11, 1974, began his acting career as a teen, appearing on TV’s Growing Pains and going on to co-star in such films as This Boy’s Life (1993), with Robert De Niro; What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), for which he received a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination; and Romeo + Juliet (1996), with Claire Danes. Following Titanic, DiCaprio collaborated with director Martin Scorsese on Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), which earned DiCaprio a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as Howard Hughes, and The Departed (2006). His later films include Catch Me if You Can (2002), Blood Diamond (2006), Inception (2010), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), The Revenant (2015) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). He won the Best Actor Oscar for The Revenant. 

Winslet, born on October 5, 1975, in Reading, England, made her big-screen debut in 1994’s Heavenly Creatures and earned a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. She went on to receive Oscar nominations for Titanic, 2001’s Iris, 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2006’s Little Children and 2008’s The Reader, for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress. She later starred in Revolutionary Road (2008), Steve Jobs (2015) and Wonder Wheel (2017). 

READ MORE: The True Stories That Inspired ‘Titanic’ Movie Characters

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World Series parachutist sentenced


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Year
1986
Month Day
December 19

Michael Sergio, who parachuted into Game Six of the 1986 World Series at New York’s Shea Stadium, is fined $500 and sentenced to 100 hours of community service. On October 25, Sergio, a 37-year-old actor and Mets fan, landed on the infield with a “Let’s Go Mets” banner in the first inning of the sixth game between the Mets and the Boston Red Sox. Over 55,000 stadium spectators witnessed the sky diver’s arrival and cheered him on. Sergio, who was quickly removed from the field by police, claimed he was an experienced parachutist who made the jump to show support for the Mets.

Prosecutors in Queens, New York, home of Shea Stadium, claimed that Sergio’s actions could have injured fans and players and interrupted air traffic from nearby LaGuardia Airport. They charged him with reckless endangerment and criminal trespassing. Sergio spent a night in jail and was released without bail. On October 27, the Mets came from behind to win the World Series.

On December 10 of that year, Sergio, who claimed that several Mets players helped him get a lawyer, pled guilty to a criminal trespass charge in exchange for prosecutors dropping a more serious charge of reckless endangerment. On December 19, he was sentenced to community service and fined. However, Sergio was later held in contempt of court for refusing to reveal the name of the pilot who flew the plane from which he jumped. As a result, in May 1987, he was sentenced to six months in federal jail.

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