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