Thursday, March 29, 2012

March 1912

Roosevelt in Columbus (not yet stripped to the buff)

Battle has been joined between President Taft and former President Roosevelt for the Republican Party nomination.  Last month, as he was responding to the plea of progressive Republican governors to make his intentions known, Roosevelt told reporters “My hat is in the ring.  The fight is on and I am stripped to the buff.”  Addressing a constitutional convention in Columbus, Ohio, he took on a subject he knew would draw fire from the president.  In a speech he labeled "A Charter of Democracy," he advocated the recall, not only of elected officials but also of judicial decisions and, “as a last resort,” of judges who have “grown so out of touch with social needs and facts” that they are “unfit to render good service on the bench.”  He made it clear that he does not regard the traditional remedies, legislation in the case of bad decisions and impeachment in the case of bad judges, sufficient for the modern age.

The reaction to Roosevelt’s speech has been swift.  Speaking at the same venue on March 8, Taft made clear his strong opposition to recall as applied to the judicial branch of government.  Without mentioning Roosevelt by name, he said that recall of judicial decisions by popular vote “lays the axe at the foot of the tree of well-ordered freedom and subjects the guarantees of life, liberty and property without remedy to the fitful impulse of a temporary majority of an electorate.”  Roosevelt replied in a speech at Carnegie Hall on March 20, arguing that the country is “today suffering from the tyranny of minorities” and that “[t]he great fundamental issue now before the Republican Party and before our people is, are the American people fit to govern themselves?  I believe they are.  My opponents do not.”

Roosevelt’s advocacy of judicial recall has cost him the support of his long-time friend and ally, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.  In a statement to the press, Lodge said “I am opposed to the constitutional changes advocated by Colonel Roosevelt in his recent speech in Columbus … but I cannot personally oppose him who has been my lifelong friend, and for this reason I can take no part whatever in the campaign for the political nomination.”  In response to a reporter’s question, he said “The Colonel and I have long since agreed to disagree on a number of points.”

The Secretary of War

Not all Republicans, even those who consider themselves progressive, think Taft is a conservative.  One such progressive is Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, who told a crowd in Chicago that the president is the true progressive in the race, and contrasted his policies with Roosevelt’s “fantastic radicalism.”  Meanwhile, Roosevelt has again challenged Taft to meet him in primary contests, and announced his intention to stump the country in support of his campaign.

The New Supreme Court (front row left to right: Justices Day and McKenna, Chief Justice White, Justices Holmes and Lurton; back row left to right: Justices Lamar, Hughes, Van Devanter and Pitney)

On March 13 the Senate confirmed Mahlon Pitney’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 50-26.  Taft’s five previous appointments (including the promotion of Justice Edward White to Chief Justice) were confirmed without opposition.  The unusual opposition to Pitney’s nomination came from Democrats and a few progressive Republicans.  Taft’s appointment of five new justices to the Supreme Court in a single term (not counting Justice White’s promotion to Chief Justice) is the most since the beginning of the Republic, when George Washington, starting with an empty bench, appointed eight justices in his first term.  It is perhaps appropriate that Taft should have a large role in shaping the Court.  As a former federal judge, he has taken a greater personal interest in the judiciary than any president in history.  Some suspect, indeed, that his ambition to lead the Supreme Court himself one day may not have vanished with his election to the presidency.  After Chief Justice Melville Fuller’s death in 1910, Taft appointed White, a 65 year old southern Democrat, to the post, rather than the much younger Charles Evans Hughes, a popular former Republican governor of New York whose appointment as an associate justice had just been confirmed by the Senate.  Taft’s choice of the older White over the younger Hughes may have been motivated in part by the thought that he himself might be in line for the post of Chief Justice should it become vacant in a future Republican administration.

Governor Burke

In an increasing number of states this year, convention delegates will be chosen, directly or indirectly, by primaries, the first of which was held March 19 in North Dakota.  The Democratic primary there was won by Governor John Burke, who will go to the convention as a favorite son but is known to be a supporter of Governor Wilson.  Senator LaFollette was the winner on the Republican side, despite having suspended his campaign last month.  In New York, primaries were held on March 26 in the first test of that state's new primary law.  Democrats chose delegates to their state convention, which will in turn select the state's delegates to the national convention, and where the principal concern is likely to be less the identity of the presidential nominee than the perennial fight for control of the party between Tammany Hall and upstate anti-Tammany Democrats.  In the Republican primary, in which voters selected delegates directly for the national convention, they dealt former president Roosevelt a stunning defeat in his home state: only seven of New York's 90 convention delegates will be for Roosevelt.  More primary elections are scheduled for April, beginning with Alabama and Wisconsin on April 2.

Champ Clark on the hustings

Campaign songs are hardly a new phenomenon.  Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” are examples of successful presidential campaigns that have had rousing musical accompaniments.  Seldom, however, has the country been treated to a campaign ditty quite like this popular song, recently adopted as the campaign song of House Speaker Champ Clark (click to play):

The Missouri Dawg Song
(They Gotta Quit Kickin' My Dawg Aroun')
(sung by Byron Harlan)


Henry Cabot Lodge

The general arbitration treaties with Great Britain and France, which were negotiated and submitted to the Senate last year, reflect the president’s firm belief in the efficacy of judicial-type process, even in the context of international disputes.  They ran into opposition, however, not only from Democrats but also from the president’s own party, which still controls the Senate.  The Senate ratified the treaties on March 7, but only after attaching reservations that render them little different from existing treaties.  The treaties establish a Joint High Commission of Inquiry, but as limited by the reservations they deny the Commission final power to decide whether particular disputes involving the United States are arbitrable, subjecting that decision to the Senate’s power of advice and consent.  The reservations also remove from the treaty’s scope all questions regarding immigration and the application of the Monroe Doctrine.  Almost all Senate Democrats supported the reservations, as did Republican followers of former President Roosevelt, who has been critical of the treaties from the beginning.  On this subject, Roosevelt and Lodge are in agreement.  As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lodge led Republican support for the reservations.

Albert Berry (right) with His Parachute

The aeroplane continues to demonstrate its potential.  On March 1, in France, Jules Vedrine broke his own speed record by flying his monoplane 101 2/3 miles in an hour.  On the same day, at the Jefferson Barracks Army Depot near St. Louis, U.S. Army Captain Albert Berry made what is believed to be the first parachute jump from an aeroplane.  After the machine had reached a level altitude of about 1,500 feet, Berry climbed out of his seat and suspended himself from a trapeze bar mounted underneath the aircraft.  The parachute, stowed in a conical container also attached to the bottom of the aeroplane, deployed behind Berry as he released himself from the bar and plunged earthward. 

U.S.S. Florida

Advancements in design and technology also continue in surface warfare.  On March 25, a new addition to the United States Navy, the U.S.S. Florida (BB-30), set a speed record for battleships by traveling 22.54 knots.  The Florida and her sister ship U.S.S. Utah (BB-31) are the new "Dreadnought" type battleships, named after the Royal Navy's H.M.S. Dreadnought, launched in 1906.  Dreadnoughts are characterized by their larger size, heavier armament, steam turbine propulsion, and more and larger guns (ten 12-inch guns in the case of the Florida).

U.S.S. Maine

An older and more famous veteran of the U.S. Navy, the U.S.S. Maine (ACR-1), whose destruction by a mysterious explosion in Havana Harbor in 1898 triggered the Spanish-American War, has finally been laid to rest.  Sometimes called a battleship, the Maine was officially classified as an armored cruiser.  On March 16 she was refloated, towed to the open sea, and sunk with appropriate ceremony.  The remains of the officers and men who went down with the ship were recovered and interred at Arlington National Cemetery on March 23.

Pascual Orozco

In Mexico, another former supporter of President Francisco Madero has mounted a revolutionary challenge to the government.  Pascual Orozco was a commander of the forces that toppled the government of Porfirio Diaz last year.  Disappointed by the new government’s failure to adopt the reforms he advocated, and perhaps even more disappointed by Madero's refusal to appoint him to an important position, Orozco declared his uprising on March 3.  President Taft has banned the shipment of war supplies to Mexico and is considering sending warships to Mexican ports to protect American citizens.

Turkish Photograph of Attack by Italian Airships

In Italy’s war with Turkey, the Italian government reports that 536 Italian soldiers have been killed and 324 are missing as of the end of February.  On March 4, in another demonstration of Italy’s naval superiority, an Italian cruiser bombarded the Arabian town of Dubab.  In the land war, a dirigible balloon was used as a weapon for the first time on March 6 when two Italian airships dropped bombs onto a Turkish camp at Zanzur.  Ten days later, Turks and Arabs attacked Italian positions in Tobruk, killing thirteen Italians and injuring seventy-three.  On the same day, back in Rome, three shots were fired at King Victor Emmanuel III as he rode through the streets.  The would-be assassin, a young anarchist, was arrested.  None of his shots found their mark.

 Damaged Shop Windows in London

English coal miners are on strike for a minimum daily wage, causing business disruptions and slowdowns throughout Britain.  Campaigners for woman suffrage have announced that they will follow the miners' example and call attention to their grievances by injuring business interests.  On March 1, they took their campaign to the streets, smashing shop windows around Trafalgar Square and along the Strand, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Oxford Street, where a number of fashionable jewelry and dry goods stores are located.  The demonstration was highly organized.  Well-dressed women arrived in cabs, from which in some cases they were assisted by the stores’ unwitting porters.  The damage was done and the women had melted into the crowds before the stores’ employees or the police were able to react.

Winston Churchill

In a speech to the House of Commons on March 18, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill announced that British policy is to maintain 60 percent superiority over Germany in battleships and battle cruisers of the Dreadnought type.  This replaces the previous policy of ensuring that British strength matches or exceeds that of the next two largest naval powers.  Responding to the German naval plan of building three Dreadnoughts a year, Churchill proposed the construction of twenty-one new Dreadnoughts in the next six years, alternating four one year and three the next.  He said the British building programme could be reduced if Germany reduces hers, adding that removing those ships from the Royal Navy by simply not building them would be as effective from Germany's point of view as sinking them in battle, and far more economical.  Despite the unassailable logic of Churchill's argument, most observers think Germany is unlikely to be persuaded.

Amundsen and His Crew in Tasmania

Roald Amundsen appeared in Hobart, Tasmania on March 7, announcing that his expedition had succeeded in reaching the South Pole.  There has been no word of the British expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott, which set out for the Pole at about the same time.

March 1912 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, April and May 1912
The Literary Digest, April 1912
New York Times, March 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
Stephen Howarth, To Shining Sea, A History of the United States Navy
Kermit L. Hall ed., The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States
Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War
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