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Today in history: July 24
President Martin Van Buren dies, FDR makes a daring demand, and rumors of the A-bomb circulate at Potsdam
Van Buren helped found what became the Democratic Party.
Van Buren helped found what became the Democratic Party. Getty Images

On this day. 1862: Martin Van Buren died. He was the eighth president, serving between 1837-41. Known as "Blue Whiskey Van," for his heavy drinking, Van Buren had slipped into a coma three days before.

Van Buren helped organize what today is the Democratic Party. He was the first president who was of neither British nor Irish descent (his family was Dutch) and was the first president born as an American citizen. He is the only president who didn't speak English growing up — Dutch was his first language — and the first president from New York.

The Van Buren presidency was largely characterized by the Panic of 1837 and the economic depression that followed. Critics attacked him, labeling him "Martin Van Ruin." Van Buren lost his re-election bid in 1840 to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison.

On this day. 1941: Franklin D. Roosevelt demanded that Japanese troops leave Indo-China. They didn't.

On this day. 1945: Meeting in Germany at the Potsdam Conference, which discussed, among other things, the future of postwar Germany and ending the war against Japan, President Harry Truman hinted to Soviet leader Josef Stalin of a "new weapon" that could be used against Japan (it was the a-bomb). In his memoir Year of Decisions, Truman wrote: "On July 24 I casually mentioned to Stalin that we had a new weapon of unusual destructive force. The Russian Premier showed no special interest. All he said was he was glad to hear it and hoped we would make "good use of it against the Japanese." Spies, of course, had already told Stalin of America's atomic bomb. The Soviet leader wished Truman luck in using it against Japan.

Quote of the day

"The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty." -James Madison

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