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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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