Feb. 4, 1789: Electors unanimously chose George Washington to be the first president of the United States. Washington won 69 electoral votes, more than enough to be elected; John Adams received 36 and John Jay got 7. The only drama in the election was who would become vice president. In those days, each elector cast two votes; if a person received a vote from a majority of the electors, that person became president, and the runner-up became vice president. Since John Adams was the runner-up, he became the vice president. The Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, would change this procedure, requiring each elector to cast distinct votes for president and vice president.

For the first 13 years of its existence — from 1776 to 1789 — the United States had no president. The federal government was run by the Confederation Congress, which had a ceremonial presiding officer and several executive departments, but no independent executive branch.

Feb. 4, 1945: President Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Josef Stalin opened the Yalta talks, which shaped post-World War II Europe. The outcome of the conference, which took place in the Livadia Palace near Yalta in Soviet Crimea, is today regarded as controversial, since it helped cement communist control by the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe. The Allied powers also agreed to split Germany into four occupied zones, with the U.S., Britain, France, and U.S.S.R. each getting a piece.

Other outcomes:

  • Germany would have to be demilitarized and cleansed of Nazi influence.
  • Germany would have to pay reparations to the Allied powers.
  • Stalin agreed to enter the fight against Japan within 90 days after the defeat of Germany.
  • Nazi war criminals were to be hunted down and brought to justice.

Quote of the Day

"The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted." — James Madison

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