Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 1912

 Senator LaFollette

The campaign for the Republican nomination took a major turn this month.  On Friday, February 2, Senator Robert LaFollette, the leading progressive candidate, appeared to suffer a nervous breakdown during a speech to magazine publishers in Philadelphia.  His speech became a wild-eyed rant, in which he accused the publishers in his audience of being tools of the interests.  As the moderator tried to calm him down and his audience began to leave the room, his attacks became more violent.  The speech continued for two and a half hours and appears to have done serious harm to his public image and, of course, to his candidacy.  The following Monday his campaign office announced that his active campaign to win delegates to the convention will cease, and that his efforts will now concentrate on promoting “the thoroughgoing and definite principles which he has advocated.”

Theodore Roosevelt

LaFollette’s apparent collapse left the field open for another candidate to claim leadership of Republican progressives.  Former President Theodore Roosevelt has been the subject of intense speculation since his triumphant return from Africa on June 18, 1910 (the coincidence of the date being the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo led to references in the press to his "return from Elba").  Roosevelt has now announced his availability, if not his active candidacy, for the nomination.  Less than a week after LaFollette’s withdrawal, seven progressive Republican governors wrote to Roosevelt saying that they believed most Republicans favored his nomination and most Americans favored his election as the next president, and asked him to “declare whether, if the nomination for the presidency comes to you unsolicited and unsought, you will accept it.”  Roosevelt replied in a letter dated February 24, saying he “will accept the Republican nomination if it is tendered to me.”  He added a word in favor of primaries, expressing the hope that “so far as possible the people may be given the chance, through direct primaries, to express their preference.”  Apart from principle, Roosevelt’s support of primaries is self-serving.  Given the regulars' control of the party machinery in most states, state party conventions are likely to favor the president’s renomination.  Primaries, therefore, offer Roosevelt the most promising route to the nomination.  Despite his challenge to the president, Roosevelt insists that he remains loyal to his party.  Asked whether he will support the Republican nominee “whoever he may be,” Roosevelt replied “Of course I shall.”

The day after Roosevelt’s letter appeared in the newspapers, nine other Republican governors issued a joint statement in support of Taft’s nomination.

Meanwhile, Roosevelt has come out in favor of woman suffrage, but with important qualifications.  In an editorial this month in the Outlook, he says "I heartily believe in equality of rights as between man and woman, but also in full and emphatic recognition of the fact that normally there cannot be identity of function," adding that "the effort to ignore this patent fact is silly."  Specifically addressing the issue of suffrage, he says "I believe in woman suffrage wherever the women want it.  Where they do not want it, the suffrage should not be forced upon them."  He advocates special elections in which women would "vote ... as to whether they do or do not wish the vote as a permanent possession."  He cites as an example a recent referendum on the subject in Massachusetts, in which only women were allowed to vote.  A majority of those voting voted in favor of suffrage, but only about five percent of the eligible women voted.  In these circumstances, Roosevelt says, "those not voting should be held to have voted no."  He does not seem to have considered the possibility of letting women who want to vote do so, while letting those who don't want to vote stay home, a system that seems to work well enough when applied to the other sex.

President Taft signing the proclamation admitting the 48th state

On February 14, Arizona was admitted to the Union as the 48th state.  The country has now filled in the last blank space on the map, extending, in the words of a recently published song, “from sea to shining sea.”

In a message to Congress on February 2, President Taft noted the rising cost of living, and advocated proposing to other nations "the appointment of an international commission to look into the cause for the high prices of the necessities of life."  He also addressed the growing militancy of labor, urging the appointment of a federal commission to make "searching inquiry into the subject of industrial relations."  While noting that "some of the remedies will lie with the separate States, or even entirely outside the sphere of Governmental activity," the President asserted that "the time is now ripe for a searching inquiry into the subject of industrial relations which shall be official, authoritative, balanced, and well-rounded, such as only the federal government can successfully undertake."

Woodrow Wilson

On February 12, in a speech in Chicago, Woodrow Wilson formally announced his candidacy for president.  His principal rival for the Democratic Party’s nomination, Speaker of the House Champ Clark, enjoys strong support among party leaders in the Midwest and West, including in his home state of Missouri.  Clark has been a long-time supporter of William Jennings Bryan but has tried to remain on good terms with all factions of the party.  Other candidates with substantial support include House Majority Leader Oscar W. Underwood of Alabama, the favorite of southern Democrats, and Governor Judson Harmon of Ohio, who is supported by northern conservatives, a faction of the party represented in the past by nominees Samuel J. Tilden, Grover Cleveland and Alton B. Parker.

 Representative Underwood

A proposed investigation of the so-called “money trust," sparked by the  recent submission of the report of the National Monetary Commission, has divided the Democrats in the House of Representatives.  The Bryan men want an all-out investigation of the banks, while the conservative Democrats, led by majority leader Underwood, are opposed.  Speaker Clark is trying to avoid antagonizing either faction.  Talk of compromise is focused on the creation of a special committee, the membership of which would be subject to negotiation.

 Representative Albert S. Burleson

The Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee have voted in their caucus to reject funding for two additional “Dreadnought” battleships requested by the Taft administration. Committee member Albert S. Burleson (Dem., Texas), defended the Democrats’ action, arguing that the United States should maintain a navy for defensive purposes only.  Further reflecting the prevailing resistance to military expenditures, the House of Representatives on February 9 adopted an amendment to the army appropriations bill reducing the number of cavalry regiments from 15 to 10.

 Chancellor Mahlon Pitney

For weeks it has been taken for granted that President Taft would appoint Kansan William C. Hook to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice John Marshall Harlan.  Judge Hook is a respected judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which encompasses a vast territory from Missouri to Utah and New Mexico to North Dakota.  At the last minute, however, opposition surfaced from Negro organizations, including the recently organized National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who objected to a recent Eighth Circuit decision in which Judge Hook participated that upheld the constitutionality of a “Jim Crow” law in Oklahoma.  The Negro vote, though severely restricted by local laws and customs in the South, comprises an important part of the Republican Party's support, so President Taft is sensitive to its concerns.  On February 19, therefore, he passed over Judge Hook and appointed Mahlon Pitney, Chancellor of New Jersey, to the vacant seat.

 Chief Justice White

Oregon adopted the initiative and referendum in 1902, and in 1906 Oregon voters employed it to impose a tax on telephone and telegraph companies in the state.  One of the companies challenged the initiative and referendum as a violation of Article IV, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, which guarantees the states a republican form of government.  On February 19, in a brief order signed by Chief Justice Edward D. White, the Supreme Court unanimously refused to consider the challenge, ruling that it presented a political question for Congress, not the Court, to decide.

Baden-Powell, Taft and Lord Bryce Reviewing the Boy Scouts
(Major Butt in dress uniform on the left)

On February 3, President Taft reviewed some 400 Boy Scouts from the front portico of the White House.  He was accompanied by Lieutenant General Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement in Great Britain, and Lord Bryce, the British Ambassador.  The Boy Scouts of America, modeled on the British organization, was founded in 1910.

 The 1911 Carlisle Football Team
(Jim Thorpe in the backfield on the right)

The Football Rules Committee of the National Collegiate Athletic Association has adopted major changes to the rules governing the game of football.  The Association's predecessor organization adopted major changes in 1906, including an increase from five to ten of the number of yards a team must gain (in three plays) to retain possession of the ball.  The 1906 rules also legalized the forward pass.  The forward pass has proven popular with fans and has been used effectively by coaches such as Glenn (“Pop”) Warner of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, but it has labored under a number of restrictions that reduce its effectiveness.  For example, if a pass crosses the goal line, or if it crosses the line of scrimmage less than five yards from center, possession is awarded to the other team.  The passing team also loses possession if a pass hits the ground without being touched.  The changes going into effect this year will remove these and other restrictions on the forward pass.  Other changes include shortening the field from 110 to 100 yards, adding 10-yard end zones, increasing from three to four the number of downs allowed to gain ten yards, and increasing from five to six the number of points awarded for a touchdown.  Perhaps the new rules will last longer than the old ones did.

Jumping from the Statue of Liberty

On February 2, steeplejack Frederick R. Law jumped from the torch of the Statue of Liberty and landed safely thanks to a parachute that followed him over the parapet as he leapt.  He chose the Statue of Liberty for his jump after considering and rejecting the two tallest buildings in New York, the Singer Building on lower Broadway and the Metropolitan Life Tower on Madison Square, because of the danger of interfering with traffic, and possibly causing runaway horses, on the streets below.

Franz Reichelt modeling his new invention

In a less successful attempt two days later, Franz Reichelt fell to his death from the Eiffel Tower in his first and only demonstration of his “parachute suit” (click to play):

Reichelt on the Eiffel Tower, newsreel cameras rolling


Irish Party leader John Redmond

In Great Britain, the government has announced its plan for Irish Home Rule.  While Ireland would remain part of the British Empire, the plan proposes the creation of an Irish legislature with full power to legislate for Ireland.  It would include the power to control Irish trade and tariffs, with one important exception: there is to be free trade between Ireland and Britain.  This exception would seem to render the new legislature’s trade powers largely meaningless (goods could escape Irish tariffs by being shipped through British intermediaries) and may be unacceptable to Irish nationalists.  The plan also provides for greatly reduced Irish representation in the British Imperial Parliament, another point of possible disagreement.  Despite these potential issues, it appears almost certain that Home Rule in some form will be passed this year in the House of Commons.  On February 17, 15,000 people demonstrated in Trafalgar Square in support of Home Rule.

Support for Home Rule was the price of the Irish Party’s support of the Government last year in the battle over the Parliament Bill, which reduced the power of the House of Lords to block most legislation.  Because the Lords are strongly opposed to Home Rule, the reduction of their power was necessary, not only to pass the Liberal Government's social legislative agenda, but also to the ultimate adoption of Home Rule itself.  Before the Parliament Bill became law, the Lords could have exercised their veto to prevent Home Rule from becoming law indefinitely.  Now it can do so for only two years.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, therefore, the Irish dream of self-government for their island will become a reality in 1914.

Italian Armored Cruiser Garibaldi

The war between Italy and the Ottoman Empire continues, with military operations now ranging beyond North Africa to other parts of the Ottoman Empire that are accessible from the sea and thus exposed to Italy's superior naval power.  On February 5, an Italian fleet bombarded the Ottoman city of Hodeida on the Red Sea, and on February 24 an Italian naval force including the armored cruiser Garibaldi attacked Turkish naval vessels in Beirut, sinking several ships.  There also appears to have been extensive damage to buildings in Beirut, but Italy denies bombarding the city.  On land, the Turkish forces that control most of the Libyan interior attacked Italian defenses near the port city of Derna, but were repulsed, and at month’s end the Italian army claimed to have defeated Turkish forces near the town of Homs on the African coast.  On February 22, as the Italian Parliament reconvened, King Victor Emmanuel III issued a royal decree proclaiming the annexation of Tripoli and Cyrenaica.  At month's end, reports surfaced that Italy and Turkey may be looking to resolve their conflict through mediation. 

President Yuan Shih-Kai

There is a new government in China.  On February 12 the six-year-old Emperor Pu-Yi abdicated, ending over 250 years of rule by the Qing, or Manchu, Dynasty.   Within the week, Sun Yat-Sen requested that his rival Yuan Shih-Kai accept the post of president of the Chinese Republic, and the National Assembly followed promptly with a vote electing Yuan Shih-Kai president.  On February 27 Yuan Shih-Kai accepted the presidency, with General Li Yuan Hung, military leader of the revolutionary forces, as vice-president.

Emilio Vasquez Gomez

The situation in Mexico is dangerous and confusing, with every month seeming to bring another revolutionary challenge to Francisco Madero's government.  At the end of January, revolutionaries in Ciudad Juarez seized the city and proclaimed Emilio Vasquez Gomez, Madero's former Minister of the Interior, president.  The United States has denied the Mexican government’s request for permission to send Mexican troops through American territory to reach Juarez, and the revolutionary activity on the border has caused the United States to send additional forces to El Paso to protect American interests.

February 1912 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, March and April 1912
Current Literature, March 1912
New York Times, February 1912
The Outlook, February 3, 1912

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
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
John Sayle Watterson, College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy