Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 31, 1911

The United States Capitol, 1911

As required by Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution, the 62nd Congress assembled in Washington on December 4, the first Monday of December.  Earlier this year, President Taft convened Congress in a special session to consider the ill-fated reciprocal trade agreement with Canada, but this is its first and only regular session before the 1912 election.  There will be a second session (dubbed the “short” or “lame duck” session) starting on the first Monday of next December, after the election.  That session will end when the newly elected 63rd Congress takes office on March 4, 1913, but unless there is another special session that Congress will not meet until the first Monday of the following December.

Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution states that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”  It has been the custom for over a hundred years for the president to discharge this duty by sending a written message to Congress at the beginning of its annual session to be read by the clerk.  This year President Taft divided his message into several parts, each dealing with a different subject.  His first message, dealing with the trust question, arrived and was read to both houses of Congress on December 5.  His message on foreign policy was delivered on December 7.

 Congressman William Sulzer

The president’s foreign policy message this year addressed a subject at the top of Congress’s agenda, the nation’s 1832 treaty with Russia.  That treaty provides that American citizens are to be treated like all other citizens traveling abroad, but Russia refuses to permit entry of American Jews or to exempt American Jews already in Russia from the country’s harsh anti-Semitic laws.  In response to American complaints, Russia insists that this is a domestic matter with which the United States has no legitimate concern.  Although the United States itself has a Chinese Exclusion Act on the books, the Russian policy has aroused a strong political response in this country.  On the evening of December 6, New York’s Carnegie Hall was packed with people demanding support for a resolution pending in Congress urging the president to abrogate the treaty with Russia.  The speakers included Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey, Speaker of the House Champ Clark, Senator James A. O’Gorman of New York and publisher William Randolph Hearst, as well as Representative William Sulzer of New York, the sponsor of the resolution in the House.  The president, in his foreign policy message the next day, stated that he was attempting to renegotiate the treaty to more securely protect Americans’ rights and promised “a further communication on the subject” after the Christmas holidays.  Russian intransigence on the subject was clear, however, and on December 13 the House of Representatives approved the resolution with only one dissenting vote.  Senate approval appeared certain, and on December 17 Taft advised Russia that the treaty was no longer in effect.  The Senate speedily and unanimously ratified the president’s action.

Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall was again the scene of a political rally on December 12, this one called by prominent citizens including Andrew Carnegie and Joseph Choate, to express support for President Taft’s proposed arbitration treaties with Great Britain and France.  On this occasion, however, the meeting was infiltrated by hundreds of German sympathizers.  When one of the scheduled speakers, to the apparent surprise of the rally's organizers, denounced the treaties as aimed at Germany, the infiltrators rose to their feet cheering, and disrupted further proceedings by loudly interrupting speakers who attempted to speak in support of the treaties.  The president himself, who was not at the Carnegie Hall rally, had better luck a week later when he spoke forcefully in defense of the treaties at the Hotel Astor.

Senator William E. Borah

The Republican National Committee, meeting in Washington on December 12, designated Chicago as the location and June 18 as the date of the 1912 Republican Convention.  There will be 1,076 delegates, with 539 votes required to nominate a candidate for president.  The Committee’s rules stipulate that each state’s delegates are to be selected by convention, except that in states with laws that require delegates to be chosen by primary vote the state committees may determine how they are to be selected.  They may decide, in other words, whether to comply with or ignore the state law.  The Committee rejected a rule proposed by Senator William E. Borah that would have allowed state committees in every state to choose delegates by primaries rather than conventions.  This outcome is seen as a clear victory for the Taft forces and a defeat for those who would prefer another candidate, such as former President Theodore Roosevelt or Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin.  The Taft forces on the Committee have been strengthened, unfairly some say, by their control of the state committees in the southern states, where memories of the Civil War and Reconstruction ensure that the Republican Party remains a decided minority.  Southern Republicans seem resigned to their minority status (the "Solid South" has voted Democratic in every election since the end of Reconstruction in 1877), but they are a force to be reckoned with in party affairs.  A northern Republican said of them, “They don’t want any more Republicans down there.  So long as they have enough to fill the [federal patronage] offices and man the machine that is all they are after.”  Progressives are frustrated.  After the Borah proposal was rejected, a spokesman for the LaFollette campaign charged the Committee with “insolent contempt” for the laws of the states that provide for primaries.  The committee’s next meeting will be in Chicago a few days before the convention.  Although Roosevelt continues to deny that he is a candidate for the nomination, his availability if called is increasingly taken for granted.

 Booker T. Washington

Early in Roosevelt's presidency, he created a firestorm of controversy when he invited Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House.  This was the first time such an invitation had ever been extended to a member of the Negro race, and it has not been repeated.  Because of widespread disenfranchisement of Negroes in southern states (where most of them live), no Negroes have been elected to Congress in recent years.  Representative George H. White (Rep., N.C.), who was defeated in 1900 after a successful campaign by North Carolina Democrats to deny the vote to Negroes in that state, was the last of his race to serve in Congress.

Meanwhile, there has been a small but potentially significant movement of Negro Americans away from the South and into big cities of the North.  On December 1, the New York Times carried a front page story with the headline “Invasion of Negroes Cuts Harlem Values.”  The article reported the loss of real estate values due to the movement of Negroes into areas of Harlem “which hitherto have been free of colored people” and the formation by white property owners of restrictive associations designed to “check the encroachment.”  The president of one of the associations said he believed the encroachment was part of a plan by the New York Central Railroad to drive down property values to facilitate the purchase of land for the construction of a railroad tunnel under Manhattan and the Harlem River to Long Island.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

One of the greatest tragedies in New York City’s history occurred earlier this year when a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, a garment factory on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of a building at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, one block east of Washington Square.  The doors to the stairwells and exits were locked, trapping hundreds of young women workers.  Over a hundred died, many of them leaping to their deaths on the sidewalks below before the eyes of horrified onlookers.  The owners of the company were indicted on charges of manslaughter.  The trial took place this month, and ended with a verdict of not guilty.  Observers attribute the surprising result in part to the trial judge’s instructions to the jury, which required them to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the owners knew the doors were locked at the time of the fire, and in part to the cross-examination of a key prosecution witness by defense attorney Max Steuer, who damaged the girl’s credibility by asking her to repeat her story several times, which she did using many of the same words each time, suggesting that she had been told what to say.  The jurors left the courthouse under police protection.

The Los Angeles Times After the Bombing

Another headline trial ended this month in Los Angeles with surprise guilty pleas from the McNamara brothers, labor activists and members of the International Association of Bridge & Structural Ironworkers.  James McNamara pled guilty to the dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times building, which started a fire that killed 21 people and injured over a hundred.  His brother John, the union’s secretary-treasurer, pled guilty to bombing the Llewellyn Iron Works, a local iron manufacturing plant.  Both bombings were apparently part of the union’s attempt to organize the iron workers in the Los Angeles area, an effort vigorously opposed by the Times and its proprietor Harrison Grey Otis.  James was sentenced to life imprisonment and John to fifteen years.  After the sentencing, it was announced that a federal grand jury would investigate the full scope of the conspiracy.  The labor movement is divided, having strongly supported the McNamaras prior to the trial and funded their defense.  The nation's largest labor union, Samuel Gompers' American Federation of Labor, has issued a statement expressing satisfaction that “the culprits have been punished for their crime.”  Clarence Darrow, the McNamaras’ defense attorney, said he advised them to change their plea to guilty because the evidence against them “presented a stone wall.”  The guilty plea came in the wake of the recent arrest of one of the defendants’ investigators for attempting to bribe a prospective juror.  The week after the guilty pleas were entered, Job Harriman, the Socialist candidate for mayor of Los Angeles who had assisted Darrow in the McNamaras' defense, was defeated by 36,000 votes in an election in which some 70,000 women took advantage of their new right to vote.

The Victor Talking Machine Company

1911 has been a good year for popular music.  Americans are singing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Down by the Old Mill Stream,” “I Want a Girl (Just like the Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad),” and “Put Your Arms around Me, Honey.”  Sheet music sales are still the principal measure of a song's popularity, but thanks to advances in recording technology, it is now possible for those who have the right equipment to listen to professional performances at home.

 Irving Berlin

The most popular song of the year was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” written by a young Tin Pan Alley songsmith named Irving Berlin (click to play):

Alexander's Ragtime Band
(sung by Collins and Harlan)

The nation's fascination with flight is reflected in another song’s popularity this year (click to play):

Come, Josephine, In My Flying Machine
(sung by Ada Jones and Billy Murray)

The public's fascination has been focused since September on the transcontinental flight of Calbraith P. Rodgers, who reached Pasadena in November and continued this month to the Pacific Ocean.  On December 10, still recovering from his recent injuries, he piloted his Vin Fiz Flyer to the beach at Santa Monica and dipped its wheels in the surf as thousands of onlookers cheered.  Because of the many repairs it had undergone since leaving New York, very little of the original Flyer remained.

Emiliano Zapata

General Bernardo Reyes, back in Mexico after his arrest last month in San Antonio, raised the flag of rebellion in his home state of Leon.  Following a brief skirmish in Burgos, he surrendered to federal authorities, saying "I called on the people and the army, and they did not respond, so I must give up."  He is now imprisoned in Mexico City.  The main threat to President Madero's rule now appears to be the guerrilla forces led by Emiliano Zapata, operating in southern Mexico.

Delhi Durbar

For the first time since the crusades, a reigning British monarch has left Europe.  King George V and Queen Mary are in India, where on December 12 they were installed as Emperor and Empress at the Delhi Durbar.  Over 500 Indian princes attended and paid homage as the King-Emperor reviewed a grand parade of British and Indian troops.  During the ceremonies, it was announced that the capital of India is to be moved from Calcutta to Delhi, the old capital of the Mughal Empire.

Andrew Bonar Law

Meanwhile, there has been activity back home in the British Parliament.  In the House of Commons, Conservative (Unionist) party leader Andrew Bonar Law has announced, to no one's surprise, that his party will oppose the Irish Home Rule Bill, which the Liberals under Prime Minister Herbert Asquith have promised to enact in 1912.  Chancellor of the Exchequer Lloyd George’s Insurance Bill, providing government-funded insurance for the sick and unemployed, became law when it passed its third reading in the House of Lords on December 15.

The House of Lords has rejected the Naval Prize Bill, effectively killing legislation that would have made possible Britain’s participation in the Declaration of London.  The Declaration was the product of the London Naval Conference, which was called by Great Britain and attended by major maritime powers including Germany and the United States in 1908-09.  The Declaration outlined a set of agreed principles of international law regarding neutral rights in wartime, expanding those rights in some respects.  For example, it limited the definition of contraband (goods that could be seized if discovered aboard a neutral vessel en route to the enemy) by adopting a “free list” and distinguishing between absolute and conditional contraband.  It also limited the doctrine of “continuous voyage” (contraband aboard a neutral vessel en route to a neutral port may be seized if it is eventually bound for an enemy port) to absolute contraband (war material such as weapons and ammunition); and it restated the old rule against "distant blockades" (those extending beyond the ports and coasts of the enemy).  Great Britain's repudiation of an agreement it sponsored less than three years ago may seem surprising, but may simply reflect a changed international landscape.  In 1909 Britain regarded itself as a likely neutral in any future war; now it sees itself as a possible belligerent, and as such less interested in protecting neutral rights on the high seas given its dominant naval power.  Whatever the reason, because the Declaration provides that it is effective only if ratified by all signatories, Great Britain's rejection means it will have no legal effect in the event of a future war.

Justin de Selves

The Morocco (Agadir) crisis, though formally resolved by agreement last month, continues to dominate the politics of France and Germany.  On December 14, French Foreign Minister Justin de Selves in a speech to the Chamber of Deputies reviewed the French government's actions in the crisis.  He stated that Germany had been conciliatory in the negotiations and defended the French government against charges that it should not have agreed to cede French territory in Africa as part of the settlement.  The Chamber of Deputies ratified the agreement on December 20.

Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg

In Germany, the Reichstag was dissolved on December 8 at the expiration of its regular five-year term.  The elections, set for January 12, will be conducted in an atmosphere of lingering hostility toward Great Britain and France in the wake of Germany's perceived humiliation in the Morocco crisis.  Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg will continue as Chancellor, a position that is filled by appointment of the emperor.

 Enver Bey

In North Africa, neither side has made much progress in the war between Italy and the Ottoman Empire.  With its naval presence in the adjacent seas and some 50,000 troops ashore, Italy controls most of the Libyan coast, while Turkey, because of its relatively weak navy and its inability to move troops overland through British-controlled Egypt, has been unable to reinforce its forces there.  Still, Arab and Turkish forces control most of the interior, and guerrilla resistance is strong on the outskirts of the coastal cities.  The Turkish resistance has been organized and led by Enver Bey and Mustafa Kemal, members of the "Young Turks" party that recently came to power in Constantinople.

Morgan Shuster

November ended with Russia’s ultimatum to Persia demanding that William Morgan Shuster, the American hired by Persia as its Treasurer-General, be dismissed for being insufficiently sensitive to Russian interests in the country.  On December 1, the Majlis rejected the ultimatum, and Russian troops already stationed in northern Persia marched on the capital.  In an address to the House of Commons on December 14, British Foreign Minister Sir Edward Grey said that the Anglo-Russian agreement dividing most of Persia into Russian and British spheres of influence was not intended to guarantee the country's independence.  He stated that Britain did not object to Russia’s ultimatum and agreed that Shuster should be removed.  On December 25, bowing to superior diplomatic and military pressure, Persia notified Shuster of his dismissal and declared martial law in Tehran to forestall popular unrest.

Sun Yat-Sen

In China, an armistice has been declared between government and revolutionary forces.  On December 28, revolutionary leader Sun Yat-Sen was selected by the revolutionary forces as president of the "Republic of China," and Premier Yuan Shi-kai announced the emperor's assent to a national convention to decide China's future form of government.  Meanwhile, the Chinese provinces of Mongolia and Turkestan have taken advantage of the government's weakness to declare their independence.  They are likely to become, in effect, Russian protectorates.

December 1911 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, January and February 1912
Current Literature, January 1912
New York Times, December 1911

Books and Articles:
James Chace, 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs -- the Election That Changed the Country
Patrick Devlin, Too Proud to Fight: Woodrow Wilson's Neutrality
Lewis L. Gould, Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics
Lewis L. Gould, The William Howard Taft Presidency
Sherwood Harris, Coast to Coast in 12 Crashes, American Heritage, October 1964
Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt
Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex
Patricia O'Toole, When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House
Michael Perman, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South 1888-1908
Henry F. Pringle, The Life and Times of William Howard Taft

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November 30, 1911

 President Taft, Secretary Meyer and Major Archibald Butt reviewing the fleet

Back on the east coast after his cross-country speaking tour, President Taft joined Secretary of the Navy George von Lengerke Meyer on November 2 for a review of the United States fleet on the Hudson River.  He then traveled back to his home town of Cincinnati to vote in the local election.   After a swing through Kentucky and Tennessee, Taft returned to the White House on November 12, finally ending his eight-week 15,000 mile trip, one of the longest ever undertaken by an American president while in office.

 Ohio Governor Judson Harmon

The results of the Ohio elections were not what Taft was hoping for: Democrats won in Cincinnati and swept offices throughout the state.  Those results in a bellwether state are seen as worrying for Republican prospects next year and also as enhancing Governor Judson Harmon’s prospects for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.  Republicans were more successful in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, but the Democratic governor of Massachusetts, a state that usually votes Republican, was reelected.

Theodore Roosevelt

Former President Roosevelt has responded angrily to the Taft administration’s antitrust suit against U.S. Steel, insisting in a signed editorial in the Outlook that he was not misled when he approved U.S. Steel’s acquisition of Tennessee Coal and Iron in 1907, as the suit alleges.  He took issue not only with the suit itself but also with the overall thrust of the Taft administration’s policy regarding the trusts, which he argues is wrong in attempting to regulate big business through enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act in the courts rather than through regulations adopted and enforced by federal agencies.  This represents a change of direction from his policies during his presidency, when he achieved some renown for breathing life into the moribund Sherman Act by initiating lawsuits against some of the nation's largest trusts.  In a coincidence of timing, one of those lawsuits came to an end this month with the issuance of a court order requiring that the Standard Oil Trust be dissolved and separated into 34 independent operating companies.

Despite his differences with Taft, Roosevelt has allowed himself to be quoted as stating once again that he is not available as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.  He added that he has not pledged his support for the nomination to any candidate, including the president.

Rodgers Arrives in Pasadena

Aviator Calbraith Rodgers and his Vin Fiz Flyer reached Pasadena, California on November 5, completing a journey that began at Sheepshead Bay, New York, on September 27.  This is the first time anyone has traveled by air across the United States.  After landing his machine at Tournament Park, Rodgers was wrapped in an American flag and driven around the field to the acclaim of thousands of spectators who rushed the Flyer and had to be driven back by policemen.  In 49 days, he had flown over 4,000 railroad miles, experienced a dozen crashes and suffered multiple injuries.  Although his arrival in Pasadena marked the official end of his journey, he decided to fly on to the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach.  On the way there, the Flyer crashed again.  At month's end, Rodgers is recuperating from new injuries including a broken ankle.

John and James McNamara

In a startling development in the McNamara trial in Los Angeles, where the brothers are on trial for murder in the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building last year, an investigator employed by the defense team has been arrested for attempting to bribe a juror.  Clarence Darrow, the McNamaras' attorney, has denied the charges and posted bail for his investigator.

Army and Navy Square Off in Philadelphia

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Navy football team defeated Army at Franklin Field in Philadelphia by a score of 3-0.  On the same day, the Harvard and Yale elevens played to a scoreless tie at Harvard Stadium in Allston, Massachusetts.

General Bernardo Reyes

The instability of the government in Mexico is having repercussions on this side of the border.  On November 18, the United States Marshal in San Antonio arrested Mexican General Bernardo Reyes, who has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Laredo for organizing an invasion of Mexico from the United States aiming to overthrow the government of President Francisco Madero.  General Reyes was an early supporter of Madero (who forced long-time president Porfirio Diaz out of office earlier this year) but has recently turned against him.  Another former Madero supporter, Emiliano Zapata, is leading guerrilla attacks on government forces in the southern Mexican state of Morelos.

 Weapon of the Future?

In the Italo-Turkish War, Italian troops have captured Tripoli and Cyrenaica, but the Turkish Army outside Tripoli is mounting vigorous counterattacks.  There have been reports from correspondents on the scene of atrocities committed by the Italian Army against unarmed Arab civilians in Tripoli.  Turkey has appealed to the United States to exert its influence to stop attacks on civilians, but the Italian Minister of War has rejected the charges, insisting that any violence in Tripoli was instigated by the Arabs.
The beginning of November saw the use of a new tactic in the war.  An Italian aviator conducting a reconnaissance flight in a Bleriot XI monoplane dropped bombs onto a Turkish military encampment.  This is believed to be the first time a military attack of any kind has been conducted from the air, and may signal the beginning of a new and horrific kind of warfare.  On this occasion, however, there were no reports of injury.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie has been awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry.  Funded by a trust set up under the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will, Nobel Prizes have been awarded annually since 1901 in recognition of outstanding scientific and cultural advances.  In 1903, Mme. Curie became the first woman recipient, sharing the physics prize with her late husband, Pierre Curie.  She is now the first person, male or female, to win the prize twice.

Arthur Balfour

On November 8, former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour resigned as leader of the Unionist (Conservative) Party.  Lord Lansdowne will continue as the Unionist Party leader in the House of Lords, and Andrew Bonar Law will lead the party in the House of Commons.  Also this month, the governing Liberal Party announced that it is preparing an Irish Home Rule bill, which it will submit in March.  The Unionist Party, as its name implies, is expected to mount a vigorous opposition.

The English Monarchs at their Coronation Earlier This Year

In other developments in Great Britain, King George V and Queen Mary have departed for India, where they will be installed as Emperor and Empress at the Delhi Durbar.  A four-man commission including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the king’s cousin Prince Arthur of Connaught will exercise the royal authority in the king’s absence.

Sir Edward Grey

On November 27, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey gave a speech in the House of Commons reviewing Britain’s actions in the Agadir crisis, which has now been formally resolved with the signing of an agreement between France and Germany.  Both Sir Edward’s speech and the government’s policy of firm support for France have received wide public approval in Britain.

The German Crown Prince

The reaction has been very different in Germany.  Speeches in the Reichstag on November 9 denounced the government’s perceived weakness in backing down from its original demands in Morocco.  After a particularly violent anti-government speech, Crown Prince Frederick William, who was in attendance, applauded vigorously.  This display of political opinion by a member of the royal family has drawn criticism and led to a rebuke from his father the Kaiser.

Morgan Shuster (front) and His Staff in Tehran

Russia has turned its attention to its southern border.  After a revolution in Persia in 1906 forced the shah to accept a representative assembly (Majlis), Russia and Great Britain agreed in 1907 to divide Persia into Russian and British spheres of influence.  The Persian government, in an attempt to assert its independence, appointed an American, William Morgan Shuster, to manage its finances as Treasurer-General.  Shuster’s subsequent attempts to collect taxes from influential Persians allied with Russian interests caused Russia to issue an ultimatum demanding that Shuster be dismissed and that future appointments be cleared with Russia and Great Britain.  Despite the ultimatum’s reference to Britain, it appears that it was issued without consulting the British government.

Yuan Shi Kai

The revolution in China has proceeded with astonishing swiftness.  Yuan Shi Kai, commander of forces loyal to the emperor, has been made premier in a new government, and on November 3 the emperor accepted a constitution that limits the emperor’s power and places the budget under the control of the national assembly.  Not satisfied with these reforms, revolutionary forces led by General Li Yuan Heng have occupied the city of Shanghai.  By the middle of November, they controlled all of central China except Hankow and Nanking, where a brutal crackdown by government forces is in progress.  The United States, Britain, Russia, Germany and Japan are considering sending troops to China to protect their nationals’ interests.

November 1911 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, December 1911 and January 1912
Current Literature, December 1911
New York Times, November 1911
Outlook, November 1911

Books and Articles:
James Chace, 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs -- the Election That Changed the Country
Lewis L. Gould, Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics
Lewis L. Gould, The William Howard Taft Presidency
Sherwood Harris, Coast to Coast in 12 Crashes, American Heritage, October 1964
Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt
Patricia O'Toole, When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House
Henry F. Pringle, The Life and Times of William Howard Taft

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 31, 1911

President Taft in Los Angeles, October 1911

President Taft has spent the entire month of October on his cross-country tour, speaking in Lincoln, Nebraska on the second, Denver on the third and Salt Lake City on the fifth.  By the ninth he was in Bellingham, Washington, where he predicted that the new Panama Canal would be opened by July 1913.  After stops in Seattle and Tacoma, he was in Sacramento on the thirteenth and San Francisco on the fourteenth, where he broke ground for the upcoming Panama-Pacific Exposition.  On the seventeenth, having reached Los Angeles, he turned for home.  At month’s end he was in Pittsburgh for a Chamber of Commerce dinner, where he defended the Sherman Antitrust Act.  At every stop, Taft and his advisers have been meeting with local Republican leaders to solidify support for the president’s renomination in 1912.

George W. Wickersham

Despite his criticism of some administration policies, former President Roosevelt has continued to deny that he has any interest in challenging Taft for the 1912 Republican nomination.  As Taft was on his way home, however, the most serious rift to date arose when the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against United States Steel.  In 1907, in the midst of a depression, U.S. Steel had proposed to buy Tennessee Coal & Iron, for what turned out to be a bargain price.  Roosevelt, who was then president, personally approved the deal in a meeting with J. P. Morgan and other financiers.  The new lawsuit, filed by Attorney General George W. Wickersham on October 26, challenges the Tennessee Coal & Iron acquisition as part of U.S. Steel’s alleged monopolistic conduct, and specifically alleges that Roosevelt, when he approved the acquisition, “was not made fully acquainted” with the relevant facts.  Roosevelt, whose reputation as a “trustbuster” was an important part of his political image as president, has not reacted well to the suggestion that he was misled on this occasion.  Although there is no indication that Taft was aware that the suit would include the allegations in question, he apparently put no safeguards in place to avoid offending Roosevelt, and Wickersham appears to have acted without appreciation of the political implications of the case.  To make matters worse, Taft has made no effort to explain matters to Roosevelt or otherwise mend his political fences, perhaps because he is reluctant to be seen as interfering in a judicial proceeding.  Whatever the reasons, relations between the two presidents, already strained, may now be nearing a breaking point.

California Suffragists, 1911

The National American Woman Suffrage Association held its annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky on October 20.  Earlier in the month, while the president was still on the west coast, California became the sixth state to grant women the right to vote.  In the same election, California voters approved other amendments to the state constitution providing for initiative, referendum and recall.  The recall amendment includes recall of judges, another issue that divides the present and former presidents: it is endorsed by Roosevelt but strongly opposed by Taft.

Clarence Darrow

Also in California, two brothers and labor union activists, James and John McNamara, went on trial for last year’s bombing of the Los Angeles Times building.  The massive explosion killed 21 newspaper employees and injured another 100.  The McNamaras are represented by renowned criminal defense attorney Clarence Darrow.

Robert LaFollette

The progressive movement continues to gain momentum in both parties.  William Jennings Bryan, the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for president in three of the last four elections, is still a strong force in the party, and at least one of the leading candidates for the nomination, Woodrow Wilson, has acquired a reputation as a progressive in his short tenure as Governor of New Jersey.  On the Republican side, a conference of “Progressive Republicans” held in Chicago on October 16 endorsed Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin for president and called for a nationwide direct primary to choose presidential nominees.  Many other progressives continue to hope that Roosevelt will change his mind and seek the Republican nomination in 1912.

Cal Rodgers in the Vin Fiz Flyer

Calbraith P. Rodgers is pursuing a bid to be the first aviator to cross the country by aeroplane.  He began his trip, in the “Vin Fiz Flyer” (named for the soft drink sponsoring the venture), on September 17 in Sheepshead Bay, New York, hoping to win the $50,000 prize offered by William Randolph Hearst, publisher of the New York Journal, to the first aviator to accomplish the feat within thirty days.  Rodgers failed to meet Hearst’s deadline, but has resolved to continue to the west coast.  He reached Kansas City on October 16 and is in Arizona at month’s end.

Eugene Ely landing on the U.S.S. Pennsylvania

Another aviation pioneer, Eugene Ely, was killed in an accident while performing at an air show at the Georgia State Fair Grounds in Macon.  Last year Ely demonstrated a potential use of aircraft in naval operations when he became the first aviator to take off from the deck of a ship, a Navy cruiser anchored in Chesapeake Bay.  Earlier this year he scored another first when he successfully landed his aeroplane on the deck of a battleship in San Francisco Bay.

Justice Harlan

The nation also bade farewell this month to Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slaveholder from Kentucky whose long service on the Court (he was appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877) was marked by his strong defense of property rights as well as a number of notable dissenting opinions.  Among his well-known opinions were his disagreement with the majority in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., the 1895 case holding the federal income tax unconstitutional, and his separate opinion in this year’s Standard Oil case, in which he concurred in the holding that Standard Oil was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act but denounced the “rule of reason” adopted by the Court.  He was also the lone dissenter in the 1883 Civil Rights Cases, in which the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the 1875 Civil Rights Act, and in Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1895 case that upheld state-imposed “separate but equal” segregation of the races.  President Taft, who has already appointed a new chief justice and four associate justices, now has another vacancy to fill.

 Joseph Pulitzer

Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, died on October 29 aboard his yacht in Charleston Harbor, en route to his vacation home in Jekyll Island, Georgia.  Pulitzer, who was Hearst’s major rival in the circulation wars of the 1890’s, was instrumental in the founding of schools of journalism at Columbia University and the University of Missouri.

Fans outside the New York Herald Building

The 1911 World Series ended on October 26, when Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics defeated John McGraw’s New York Giants to win the series four games to two.  Thousands of baseball fans crowded the streets to follow the action.  Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers won this year’s batting title with a batting average of .420, beating out the Cleveland Indians’ Joe Jackson, who batted .408.

 Francisco Madero

On October 1 Francisco Madero was elected president of Mexico, to succeed the ousted Porfirio Diaz and the interim president, Francisco de la Barra.  Madero has tried to persuade one of his erstwhile supporters, Emiliano Zapata, to disband his revolutionary forces, but Zapata has refused and constitutes a continuing threat to the stability of Madero’s rule.

Uncle Sam as Disappointed Suitor

Following the decisive Conservative Party victory in the Canadian parliamentary elections, Sir Robert Borden became prime minister on October 6.  Earlier this year, President Taft had made Congressional approval of a reciprocal trade agreement with Canada an administration priority, calling a special session of Congress for the purpose.  Much of Taft’s support for tariff reform came from Democrats, who have traditionally favored low (or no) tariffs in opposition to the protectionist Republicans.  He won Congressional approval after a bruising fight, only to see the Canadian Conservatives make opposition to the agreement the focus of their campaign (aided, no doubt, by Speaker Champ Clark’s speech in support of the pact, in which he looked forward to the day when “the American flag will float over every square foot of the British North American possessions clear to the North Pole”).  With the Conservative victory, free trade between the United States and Canada is dead for the foreseeable future and Taft’s expenditure of political capital appears to have been for naught.  Despite this setback, relations between the two countries remain cordial.  On October 13, the United States and Canada welcomed King George V’s uncle, the Duke of Connaught, to North America as he assumed his new duties as Canada’s governor-general.  He is the first member of the British royal family to hold this position.

The New First Lord

A cabinet shake-up in Great Britain has resulted in two senior cabinet members exchanging jobs.  On October 24, Home Secretary Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty and the former First Lord, Reginald McKenna, assumed the duties of Home Secretary.  Churchill, who is only 36, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the Liberal Party since he abandoned the Conservatives in 1904, a timely switch of party allegiance in advance of the Liberals’ victory in the 1906 elections.  The British public, meanwhile, is following with great interest the expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott in his attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole.  Interest was heightened when it was learned that another expedition, led by Norwegian Roald Amundsen, in in Antarctica with the same goal.

The Emperor of China

In the far east, military officers in the Chinese city of Wuchang, followers of the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen, staged a coup on October 10 and declared the city’s independence from the ruling Qing (Manchu) Dynasty.  The city officials fled and the revolt spread quickly to other provinces.  At month’s end, the revolution appears to be on the verge of bringing down the dynasty that has ruled China since 1644.  The revolutionary forces are in complete control of ten provinces, and the government in Peking has been forced to yield to most of their demands.  On October 24, General Li Yuan Heng, the commander of the revolutionary army, proclaimed a republic with himself as president.  On October 30, the five-year-old Emperor Pu-Yi issued an edict admitting to personal errors (due to being “without political skill”) and structural flaws in his government, which he vowed to correct.

Italian Troops in Libya, 1911

Following Italy’s declaration of war on Turkey at the end of September, hostilities have begun in the North African provinces of the Ottoman Empire.  Italian landing parties occupied forts on the coast of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica on October 6, and additional troops were landed on October 11 and 12.  The Italian fleet has exploited its naval superiority in the seas adjacent to the Libyan coast by bombarding Tripoli, Derna and Benghazi.  Ashore, however, Ottoman forces in and around Tripoli are resisting fiercely, causing heavy losses.

As war began in one part of North Africa, a potentially more serious war appears to have been averted in another.  On October 11, France and Germany agreed to a resolution of the Agadir crisis.  Germany will recognize a de facto French protectorate in Morocco in exchange for minor territorial transfers to Germany from French colonies in the Congo and Chad.  Great Britain has strongly backed France throughout the crisis, and its outcome is regarded as a diplomatic defeat for Germany.  Rather than weakening the Anglo-French Entente, as Germany had hoped, the crisis has demonstrated its strength.  The public reaction in Germany is one of anger, both against France and Great Britain for frustrating German ambitions and against the German government for its apparent fecklessness in demanding concessions it proved unable or unwilling to enforce.  No doubt Germany will want to make sure that it does not appear this weak in the event of another European crisis.

October 31, 1911 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

American Review of Reviews, November and December 1911
New York Times, October 1911

Lewis L. Gould, The William Howard Taft Presidency
Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought
Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt
The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court
Henry F. Pringle, The Life and Times of William Howard Taft

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October 1, 1911

It’s the tenth month of the eleventh year of a new century.  The President of the United States, who is nearing the end of his first term, has seen his popularity slip and faces a daunting challenge for reelection next year.  When he was elected president three years ago he brought with him strong majorities in both houses of Congress, but in last year’s mid-term elections his party lost its majority in the House of Representatives and saw its Senate majority drastically reduced.  Now he faces dissension in his own party, and an array of formidable challengers in the opposition party are vying for the opportunity to run against him.

President Taft

No, it’s not October 2011, and the President is not Democrat Barack Obama.  It’s October 1911, exactly 100 years ago, and the President is Republican William Howard Taft.  The Republican Congress elected with Taft in 1908 has been replaced by a closely divided Senate and a Democratic House of Representatives led by Speaker Champ Clark of Missouri.  Clark himself is a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1912, but there are other strong contenders in the field, including the newly elected governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson.

Roosevelt Returning to New York, 1910

The Democratic Party, however, is not Taft’s biggest political headache.  His Republican predecessor and one-time supporter, Theodore Roosevelt, returned last year from an extended big-game safari in Africa to a thunderous welcome back home.  Since then, talk of his challenging Taft for the Republican nomination has grown alarmingly, fueled by the growth of the Progressive movement and the dissatisfaction of Republican Progressives with what they see as the overly conservative policies of the Taft administration.  So far Roosevelt has insisted that he has no intention of running, but he has criticized Taft’s policies on a number of issues.  Most recent is the issue of international arbitration treaties, supported by Taft but denounced as “silly” by Roosevelt.

Gifford Pinchot

On September 15, Taft left his summer home in Beverly, Massachusetts, to embark on a cross-country speaking tour.  He spoke in St. Louis on September 23, and on September 25 he was in Kansas City with Missouri Governor Herbert Hadley addressing the third annual Conservation Congress.  Also in attendance were three-time Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan and Secretary of the Interior Walter L. Fisher.  Another speaker was former Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger, whose dismissal of renowned conservationist Gifford Pinchot as Chief of the United States Forest Service last year was an early irritant in relations between Roosevelt and the Taft administration.

Porfirio Diaz

For most of its history, the United States has been focused on domestic affairs and geographic expansion within the confines of the North American continent.  Recently it has been keeping a wary eye on Mexico, where a revolution in May of this year toppled long-time President Porfirio Diaz.  In Canada, its other North American neighbor, a new Conservative government was elected September 21 on a platform of opposition to a proposed reciprocal trade agreement with the United States.

The Great White Fleet

Since its war with Spain in 1898, the United States has joined the nations of Europe in pursuit of overseas possessions and influence.  The American flag now flies in Hawaii, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and the Isthmus of Panama, where an American canal is under construction; and the administration’s attempts to promote American trade in the Far East and Latin America have been derided by domestic critics as “Dollar Diplomacy.”  For the most part, however, the United States remains only an interested observer of the diplomatic maneuvers commanding the attention of European governments.  The expansion and modernization of the Navy, which culminated in the round-the-world cruise of the “Great White Fleet” in 1907-09, has not been matched by the Army, which exists only to keep an eye on the Mexican border and the now mostly pacified Indian tribes.

Map of the World 1911

The nations of Europe are engaged in a race for empire.  The British Empire circles the globe, encompassing India, Malaya, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and most of east Africa from the Cape to Cairo.  France governs Algeria, Tunisia, much of central and western Africa, and Indochina.  Spain, Italy, Belgium and Portugal have African colonies, the Netherlands rules the East Indies, and several European nations control “treaty ports” on the coast of China.  Only three African countries, Liberia, Ethiopia and Morocco, are independent.  Liberia was founded in the middle of the last century by former American slaves, and the governments of Ethiopia and Morocco are under the protection of European powers (Italy and France, respectively).

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Germany is a relatively recent entrant into the European competition for colonial possessions.  Since becoming Kaiser in 1888, Wilhelm II has aggressively pursued a policy of imperial expansion, leading to tensions with other colonial powers.  In the Pacific, Germany now rules the Northern Marianas, the Marshall, Caroline and North Solomon Islands, German Samoa, Northern New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago, and has treaty rights in the Shantung Peninsula of China.  In Africa, it has colonized Togoland, Cameroon, German Southwest Africa (Namibia) and German East Africa (Tanganyika).  Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow’s attempt to expand Germany’s influence in Africa in 1905 gave rise to the First Moroccan Crisis.  War with France was narrowly averted with the convening of the Algeciras Conference, which resulted in a treaty confirming Morocco’s formal independence while recognizing the primacy of French interests in the country.  The present German Chancellor is Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, who succeeded von Bulow in 1909.
Prime Minister Joseph Caillaux

In the forty years since its humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, France has staged an impressive recovery to become once again a major economic and military power.  Under the Third Republic it has had frequent changes of government.  Its current Prime Minister, Joseph Caillaux, has held that position only since June 27.  One feature of French political life, however, has remained unchanged: hostility toward Germany focused on the loss in the war of most of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.  In 1892, France entered into an alliance with Russia aimed at countering Germany’s growing power in Europe and the threat posed by Germany’s Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy.  In 1904 France joined Great Britain in the Entente Cordiale, which became the Triple Entente with an Anglo-Russian agreement in 1907.

Prime Minister Herbert Asquith

Great Britain, though concerned at all times with the maintenance of its world-wide empire, has been consumed in recent months by domestic issues.  King Edward VII died last year, and on June 22 his son was crowned King George V.  Parliament’s main interest throughout this period has been the Parliament Bill, a proposed constitutional reform to abolish the veto power of the House of Lords.  The proposal was triggered by the Lords’ rejection of Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George’s “People’s Budget” in 1909.  Two parliamentary elections in 1910 failed to result in any significant change in the Liberal Party’s narrow control of the House of Commons.  On August 10 of this year the reform legislation finally passed after the new king agreed to use his power if necessary to create enough Liberal peers to outvote the Conservatives in the House of Lords.  Now another issue has come to the fore.  In order to maintain his governing coalition in the House of Commons and get his parliamentary reform passed, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith promised the Irish Party that he would introduce and support an Irish Home Rule Bill.  That promise has now come due.  Ireland’s struggle for home rule, frustrated for over a century, may finally bear fruit.

The Gunboat Panther in Agadir

The biggest international story of the year has been the Agadir crisis, which has once again brought Germany and France to the brink of war over Morocco.  The crisis was triggered on July 1 by the unannounced arrival of a German gunboat, the Panther, at Agadir, a port on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, in apparent violation of the Algeciras Treaty.  The Panther’s visit represents another attempt by Germany to increase its influence in Africa at the expense of France.  Of perhaps greater importance, however, is its intended effect on the Anglo-French Entente.  In moving on Morocco, Germany hoped that Great Britain, which has no political ambitions in the North African sultanate, would pressure France to back down, or perhaps simply leave France to fend for itself, in either case weakening the Entente.  As the crisis has evolved, however, Great Britain has made it clear that it stands firmly behind France.

Pyotr Stolypin

Russia, like France, has shown remarkable resilience in recovering its international prestige following a devastating loss in a war.  In Russia’s case, it is the recent (1905) Russo-Japanese War, which checked Russia’s ambitions in the Far East.  Now Russia has shifted its attention to the Balkans, where it supports the attempts of Slavic nationalities to assert their independence against a weakening Ottoman Empire and an expansionist Austria-Hungary, and to Persia, where its 1907 agreement with Great Britain includes an agreement to share spheres of influence.  Russia’s political leadership, however, is in turmoil.  Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin was shot in the presence of the Tsar on September 14 and died four days later.  Little is known of the policies of his successor, former Finance Minister Vladimir Kokovtsov.  Liberal elements in Russia are hopeful that the new prime minister will institute needed reforms.

Ibrahim Hakki Pasha

The inability of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) to defend its vast territory has drawn Italy into the contest for empire.  On September 27, Italy issued an ultimatum demanding that Turkey agree to Italian occupation of the North African provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica (Libya).  When the Ottoman government in Constantinople rejected the ultimatum, Italy declared war on September 29.  The fall of the Turkish government followed swiftly, with Mehmed Said Pasha, head of the Young Turk Party, replacing Ibrahim Hakki Pasha as Grand Vizier.

The Great Powers in the Balkans

Austria-Hungary sparked a major international crisis three years ago when it annexed another former province of the Ottoman Empire, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Austria-Hungary had occupied and administered the Balkan province since the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, but its outright incorporation into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1908 was bitterly resented by the province’s large and restive Serb population.  The annexation was opposed by France, Russia, Great Britain and Italy, and seriously worsened Austria-Hungary’s relations with Russia and Serbia.  In May of this year, Serbian Army officers formed a secret society called the Black Hand, dedicated to the creation of a “Greater Serbia,” by violence if necessary.  Serb nationalism and anger at Austria-Hungary, fueled by the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, are intense and show no sign of abating with the passage of time.

Sources and Recommended Reading:
American Review of Reviews, October and November 1911
New York Times, September 1911
Kansas City Star, September 25 and 26, 1911
The Outlook, October 7, 1911
Lewis L. Gould, The William Howard Taft Presidency
Henry F. Pringle, The Life and Times of William Howard Taft
Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt
Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought
Stephen Howarth, To Shining Sea, A History of the United States Navy 1775-1991