Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 1912

President Taft Signing the Proclamation

The United States increased by one on January 6 when President Taft signed a proclamation admitting New Mexico as the 47th state.  Because stars are added only on the Fourth of July, however, the American flag will continue for now to have the 46 stars it has had since Oklahoma joined the Union in 1907.  There will probably never be a 47-star flag because Arizona’s admission, already approved by Congress, is likely to take place before the Fourth.

This year President Taft has divided his annual "state of the union" message to Congress into separate sections dealing with distinct subjects.  He delivered the sections dealing with foreign affairs and trusts last month; on January 17 he delivered the section dealing with economy and efficiency in the administration of government.  As always, the message was submitted in writing and read by the clerk to a joint session of Congress.  In it, the president observed that the United States is the only major nation that operates without a budget.  Noting that the federal government spends almost $1,000,000,000 a year, he urged the adoption of an annual federal budget so that government officials and the public will have access to “a clear, well-defined statement showing in detail whether moneys appropriated have been economically spent and whether each division or office [of the federal government] has been efficiently run.”

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge

In a speaking trip through Ohio, Taft has continued to urge ratification of the arbitration treaties with Great Britain and France, which were signed and submitted to the Senate in August.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, has insisted on reservations preserving the Senate’s traditional role of advice and consent in the resolution of international disputes.  The fact that the opposition is led by a member of his own party has made the president’s position particularly difficult.  It now appears that he may have no choice but to accept the reservations and resubmit the treaties to Great Britain and France in altered form.

Inside the Aldine Club

The 1912 presidential campaign has begun in earnest.  On January 2, the New York Times reported that Roosevelt has advised Taft that he will not rule out accepting the Republican nomination if it is offered; and he is reported to have told his audience in a January 9th off-the-record speech at the Aldine Club that he will run if the nomination is “forced upon me.”

Senator Albert B. Cummins

Roosevelt is not the only Republican considered a potential candidate to replace Taft as the Republican nominee.  Senator LaFollette, who announced his candidacy in June, recently let it be known that he intends to stay in the race whether or not Roosevelt enters.  Senator Albert B. Cummins of Iowa, another progressive Republican, joined the race this month; and newly elected Michigan Governor Chase Osborn has publicly urged both Taft and LaFollette to withdraw in favor of either Roosevelt or former Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana.  Responding to the governor’s suggestion, Taft has stated emphatically that he is in the race until it is over.  His control of the party machinery gives him the advantage in most states going into the delegate selection process. 

Some states will choose their delegates by a new system advocated by progressives: the primary election, in which voters go to the polls and either cast votes for delegates to their parties’ conventions (who may or may not be pledged to vote for a particular candidate) or simply express a preference among the candidates for the nomination.  The effect of the vote also varies, with some states providing that the delegates are bound by the result and some not.  It is unclear in any event whether a state law, or for that matter a state party committee, can dictate how a delegate casts his vote once he gets to the convention.  It will be interesting to see how the primaries affect the presidential nominating process this year.  While they will give party leaders some indication of the candidates’ electoral appeal, they will certainly not be decisive, if only because there will not be enough of them to control the convention of either party.  The first primary will be held in North Dakota on March 19 and New York on March 26; the others will be in April and May, starting with Wisconsin on April 2.

James R. Garfield

In Cleveland on January 29, Taft urged Republicans to stand together in 1912.  Among those greeting him in his home state was James R. Garfield, the son of the late president.  Garfield was Secretary of the Interior in the Roosevelt administration and has been among the progressive critics of President Taft in recent months.  It is expected that Garfield will be a strong supporter of Roosevelt should he decide to seek the Republican nomination.

 Governor Woodrow Wilson

On the Democratic side, House Speaker Champ Clark announced his candidacy for the party’s presidential nomination on January 27.  His principal rival is New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, who has a long head start.  Wilson has been making speeches throughout the country as an acknowledged presidential candidate ever since he assumed the governorship a year ago.  Clark, however, has strong support among party leaders, especially in the Midwest.  Other leading Democrats considered strong candidates for the nomination include Oscar W. Underwood of Alabama, the majority leader of the House of Representatives, who enjoys strong support among Southern Democrats, and Ohio’s popular governor Judson Harmon.  The Democratic National Committee met in Washington, D.C., on January 8.

Colonel George Harvey

Wilson’s campaign for the presidency suffered several setbacks this month.  The first came when Harper’s Weekly, which had been carrying the legend “For President: Woodrow Wilson” on its editorial page masthead for years, suddenly stopped doing so.  It is suspected that Wilson and Colonel George Harvey, the editor of Harper’s, have had a falling out, though both Wilson and Harvey deny this.  Because Colonel Harvey is a prominent conservative voice in the Democratic Party, the parting of the ways if there is one may be due to Wilson’s recent attempts to move away from his conservative past and position himself as a progressive.

William Jennings Bryan

If he is to carry the progressive banner, however, Wilson must win the support, or at least not incur the opposition, of William Jennings Bryan, the party’s nominee in three of the last four presidential election years and still the leading progressive voice in the party.  Thus Wilson’s second setback occurred just as the Democratic National Committee was meeting in Washington, when an old letter surfaced in which Wilson is seen expressing the wish "that we could do something at once dignified and effective to knock Mr. Bryan once and for all into a cocked hat.”  That night at the Jackson Day dinner, Wilson attempted to repair the damage by paying tribute to Bryan, who was with Wilson at the head table, and proposing that they “apologize to each other that we ever suspected or antagonized one another” and that they “join hands once more” to show that they are “the friends of our country and the friends of mankind.”  Bryan appeared to accept Wilson’s gesture, but the eventual effect of the disclosure is unknown.

A third setback to Wilson’s campaign occurred earlier the same day when the National Committee failed even to take up his supporters’ proposal to support a rule change allowing the presidential nominee to be chosen by majority vote rather than the two-thirds vote that has always been required in Democratic Party conventions.  Wilson’s supporters hope for a victory on the first ballot, where they think he might win a majority of the delegate votes but not two-thirds.  The ultimate decision will lie with the convention itself, but the Committee’s refusal to consider changing the rule is viewed as a missed opportunity to remove a potential obstacle to Wilson’s nomination.

The Committee also decided, after receiving a certified check for $100,000 from a Baltimore supporter, to hold the party’s convention in that city.  It will begin June 25.  This is the first time the Democrats will have held their convention in an eastern city since 1872 (when it was also held in Baltimore).  New York was also in the running, but may have been passed up not only because its offer was less generous than Baltimore’s but also because, as the New York Times admitted, “Wall Street is situated in New York City, and, in the present temper of the Western Democracy, the party would do well to shun the contagion of that celebrated thoroughfare.”  Addressing the selection of delegates, the Committee adopted a resolution allowing direct primaries wherever they are allowed by state law, similar to the Borah resolution the Republicans rejected last month.  The result, however, is expected to be essentially the same, since few states require primaries and few if any state committees will opt for primaries where they are not required.  A proposal that the National Committee require primaries was soundly defeated.

Fighting the Equitable Building Fire

The Equitable Assurance Company Building, which has stood on Broadway just a block up from Wall Street since 1870, was destroyed by fire on January 9.  The tallest office building in the world when it was built, it was equipped with steam-powered elevators to provide access to the upper floors.  Although the building was considered fireproof, this fire apparently started in the Savarin Restaurant on the ground floor and spread quickly through the elevator shafts.  Six people died in the blaze, including Fire Department Battalion Chief William Walsh.  The fire was fought in strong winds and bitter cold that froze water from the fire hoses, coating the firemen, the sidewalks and the sides of the building with ice.  The frigid weather was part of a nationwide cold wave that took temperatures below zero in New York City and to more than 50 below in Minnesota.  After the fire was extinguished, some $385 million in cash and securities was recovered from ice-covered vaults in the rubble.

Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans

Rear Admiral Robley D. (“Fighting Bob”) Evans died this month.  An 1864 graduate of the Naval Academy, he was seriously injured leading a landing party of Marines in the assault on Fort Fisher, North Carolina, in 1865.  He won the name “Fighting Bob” as a result of his firmness in dealing with the Chilean government in an incident involving American sailors ashore in Valparaiso in 1895.  He commanded the first battleship commissioned in the U.S. Navy, U.S.S. Indiana (BB-1), and later commanded the U.S.S. Iowa (BB-4) in the Battle of Santiago, a decisive naval battle of the Spanish-American War.  In 1907 he was called out of retirement to command the Great White Fleet on the first leg of its cruise around the world.

Representative Charles A. Lindbergh

The long-awaited report of the National Monetary Commission was sent to Congress on January 8.  The Commission was established in the wake of the financial panic of 1907 to review and make recommendations regarding the American banking system.  One of the most outspoken critics of the present system is Representative Charles A. Lindbergh (Rep., Minn.), who has denounced what he calls a “money trust” that he says controls the banking system for the benefit of large Wall Street banks.  The National Monetary Commission (also called the Aldrich Commission after Nelson Aldrich, the former senator from Rhode Island who co-authored the 1908 legislation creating the Commission) recommends the establishment of a National Reserve Association as the fiscal agent of the United States Treasury.  The Association would hold a portion of the cash reserves of member banks and be charged with supporting the credit of the Treasury and the member banks.  It would also have the exclusive authority, subject to federal regulation, to issue bank notes for circulation as currency.  To prevent control of the Association by any one local interest (such as Wall Street bankers), the Association would be governed by a board comprised of representatives of each of fifteen regional districts.  Bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress to enact the Commission’s recommendations into law.

Darrow At His Arraignment

There has been another startling twist in the story of the McNamara brothers, labor union activists who pled guilty last month to dynamiting the Los Angeles Times and another building in Los Angeles.  Clarence Darrow, the lawyer who represented the brothers at trial and entered the guilty pleas on their behalf, has been indicted for jury tampering and attempted bribery of a prospective juror.  One of his investigators was arrested on similar charges shortly before the guilty pleas were entered.  Darrow, who has stoutly maintained his innocence, was freed after his arraignment on $50,000 bail.  He will be represented at his trial by prominent Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Earl Rogers.

Meanwhile, a new threat to the social order has appeared (click to play):

The Turkey Trot

New York’s Committee on Amusements and Vacation Resources of Working Girls has been concerned for some time with the problem of how best to eliminate from the city's dance halls new dances such as the “Turkey Trot” and the “Grizzly Bear,” which it calls “not dancing at all, but a series of indecent antics to the accompaniment of music.”  The Committee sends observers to functions where it suspects such activities might be taking place, and on January 4 the New York Times reported that the Committee's scrutiny has now expanded from ordinary dance halls to society cotillions, where it believes the “contagion” has spread.  The Committee is seeking the cooperation of the City's Bureau of Licenses, hoping it might declare the new dances “disorderly conduct” and revoke the license of any establishment where they are seen to be performed.

Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson

In one of his first acts as First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill has announced the creation of a Naval War Staff, charged with “the scientific and speculative study of naval strategy and preparation.” Among the reasons Churchill's predecessor Reginald McKenna was replaced as First Lord in October was his unwillingness to overrule the First Sea Lord, Sir Arthur Wilson, in his opposition to the creation of a War Staff, opposition that was overcome only by Churchill’s request for Wilson's resignation.  The new First Sea Lord is Sir Francis Bridgeman.  Implementation of the directive to create a Naval War Staff will be the primary responsibility of the new Second Sea Lord, Prince Louis of Battenberg.

Raymond Poincare

The Agadir crisis continues to roil French politics.  Premier Caillaux’s government fell on January 10 after Foreign Minister Justin de Selves stated, in response to a question posed in the Senate by former President Georges Clemenceau, that he was unable to support Caillaux’s assertion that the negotiations with Germany leading to the resolution of the crisis had not involved any secret dealings involving financiers.  The suggestion that France’s colonial interests and its international honor and prestige might have been compromised by financial considerations is apparently intolerable in the context of present-day French politics.  A new coalition government led by Raymond Poincare has assumed power in Paris.

 Jules Vedrines in His Monoplane

On January 13, French aviator Jules Vedrines set a speed record in the air, flying his Morane-Borel monoplane at Pau, France, at a speed of 142 kilometers (88 miles) per hour.

August Bebel, Founder and Leader of the German Social Democratic Party

In the German parliamentary elections held on January 12, the Socialist Democratic Party won 110 seats in the Reichstag, making it for the first time the largest party in the German legislature, more than twice the size of the second-place Centre Party.

Map of the Peking Legation Quarter

Sun Yat-Sen was inaugurated on January 2 in Nanking as the provisional president of the new “Republic of China.”  Premier Yuan Shih-Kai offered to open peace negotiations with the revolutionaries, but demanded that Sun Yat-Sen step down and allow the premier to exercise sovereign power until the forthcoming national convention.  Sun Yat-Sen, meanwhile, has appealed for recognition of the Republic, and Chinese Imperial Army generals have called for a peaceful settlement, by abdication of the emperor if necessary.  On January 16, a bomb was thrown at Yuan Shih-Kai in Peking, killing two of his guards. Reflecting increased concern about the political turmoil, the American minister has called Americans into the legation quarter in Peking.  Western powers, including the United States, have sent troops to protect the 100-mile long railway from Peking to Tientsin, Peking's outlet to the Yellow Sea.  At month's end there are reports that the Manchu Dynasty, which has ruled China since the seventeenth century, will soon surrender power.

January 1912 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, February and March 1912
Current Literature, February 1912
New York Times, January 1912

Books and Articles:
James Chace, 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs -- the Election That Changed the Country
Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill: Young Statesman 1901-1914
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
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
Joseph P. Tumulty, Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him