Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 1912

Roosevelt campaigning in Sandusky, Ohio, May 1912
The American presidential campaign is growing in intensity as the major parties’ national conventions approach, both now less than a month away.  On the last day of April, President Taft's efforts in Massachusetts were rewarded with his first primary win in a large state.  After the results were in, consistent with his advocacy of primaries, Roosevelt released the Massachusetts delegates at large, previously pledged to him, to cast their votes for Taft.  Taft’s success in Massachusetts was shortly overshadowed, however, by an embarrassing loss three weeks later in his home state of Ohio.  He made a major effort in that state, and predicted victory right up until the day of the primary, when Ohio Republicans voted overwhelmingly for Roosevelt.  A week later, Roosevelt followed up with another victory in New Jersey.

Charles Murphy

On the same day as Roosevelt’s stunning win in the Ohio Republican primary, the Democrats of that state cast their lot with their governor Judson Harmon.  Harmon, who is considered the favorite candidate of the northern conservative faction of the Democratic Party, is also expected to receive the votes of most if not all of the New York delegation, controlled by Charles Murphy’s Tammany Hall.  Champ Clark continued to add to his delegate total with a primary win in California on May 14 while picking up convention victories on May 16 in Maryland and Iowa.  Woodrow Wilson won the endorsement of the Democratic convention in South Carolina on May 16 and in Texas on May 26.

Speculation continues about the possibility of major defections in both parties.  Despite their professions of party loyalty, both Roosevelt and Bryan have been outspoken in their opposition to leading candidates of their respective parties.  Former President Roosevelt is an announced candidate for the Republican nomination, and his denunciations of the incumbent president have grown more strident as the Chicago convention draws nearer.  In the Democratic Party, three-time nominee Bryan has made no secret of his opposition to Governor Harmon and Representative Underwood.  Champ Clark's attempt to avoid making enemies has caused Bryan to begin to question his progressive credentials.  Bryan and Woodrow Wilson appear for the moment to have patched up their differences, but Wilson's opposition to Bryan in his earlier campaigns remains a possible source of friction (unlike Wilson, Clark supported Bryan in those campaigns).  Bryan denies any interest in seeking a fourth nomination, but few doubt that he would happily accept if the opportunity presented itself, and the possibility that he might bolt the party and mount an independent run cannot be wholly discounted.  In short, this year's presidential campaign is shaping up as one of the most contentious in American history, made more so by the possibility that either or both of the major parties' leading figures may refuse to support his party's nominee.

The Socialist Party Ticket

One third party is already in the race.  The Socialist Party, which has been growing in strength in recent years, held its national convention in Indianapolis on May 17.  It nominated Eugene V. Debs of Indiana for president and Emil Seidel of Wisconsin for vice-president.  Debs is a founder and leader of the party, and has been its presidential candidate in every election since 1900.  Before entering politics, Debs led the American Railway Union in a strike against the Pullman Sleeping Car Company.  The strike, which brought railway commerce to a virtual halt, was broken when President Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to enforce an injunction against the strike and Debs was imprisoned for contempt of court for disobeying the injunction.  In 1905, Debs was one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, or “Wobblies”).

Earl Rogers

Clarence Darrow, who rose to prominence as Debs's lawyer in the Pullman strike litigation, is now himself on trial, charged with attempting to bribe a juror when he represented the McNamara Brothers at their trial last December for dynamiting the Los Angeles Times building.  Darrow's trial began May 15 in Los Angeles.  He is represented by Earl Rogers, one of the few lawyers in the United States who may be better known than Darrow himself.

Opening Ceremony of the 1912 Olympics

The 1912 Olympic Games were officially opened in Stockholm, Sweden on May 5 by King Gustav V.  So far the only competition has been in tennis, but other events are scheduled throughout the summer.  The modern games began in Athens in 1896 and have been held every four years since.  The games this year, however, will be the sixth:  In addition to those held in Paris in 1900, St. Louis in 1904 and London in 1908, another set of games was held, again in Athens, in 1906, with the intent of returning to Athens every four years thereafter.

The games have had to deal with their share of difficulties over the years.  The plan to hold games in Athens every four years was abandoned in 1910 due to political turmoil in Greece.  Chicago was originally chosen for the 1904 Olympics, but when the organizers of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis refused to change their plans, the Olympic games were moved to St. Louis, where they became essentially a sideshow to the World's Fair.  Four years later, the 1908 Olympics were relocated from Rome to London after the city of Naples was devastated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906.

Launching of the U.S.S. Texas

The new battleship U.S.S. Texas (BB-35) was launched May 18.  The latest member of the New York class of battleships, it will be the largest ship in the U.S. Navy.  Apparently unimpressed, the House of Representatives on May 28 passed a naval appropriations bill with no provision for new battleships.

The Gatun Lock Under Construction in March 1912

The Panama Canal, which is nearing completion, will enable merchant ships as well as naval vessels like the Texas to transit with relative ease between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  On May 23, the House of Representatives passed the Panama Canal Bill, which provides for free passage through the canal by American vessels en route from one U.S. port to another.  Because the canal, the most ambitious engineering project in history, has been an entirely American project, Congress's desire to favor American shipping interests is understandable.  This is likely to cause diplomatic difficulties with Great Britain, however, because of the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901, in which the British agreed to abandon their right to share control of an isthmus canal (based on the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850) in return for the United States' commitment to grant passage through the canal to ships of all nations on equal terms.

President Roosevelt became the first president to leave the United States while in office when he traveled to Panama in 1905 to view the progress of the canal's construction.  This film, shot during Roosevelt's visit, gives an idea of the scale of the project  (click to play):

 The Panama Canal Under Construction During President Roosevelt's 1905 Visit


John Charles Bigham, 1st Viscount Mersey

The Senate Special Committee on the Titanic released its report on May28.  Senator Smith, the chairman of the committee, summed up its findings, noting the Titanic's excessive speed through the ice field, the lack of discipline among the crew during the emergency, the insufficient number of lifeboats and the fact that many were lowered before they were filled.  The committee's most scathing criticism was reserved for Captain Lord of the Californian, whose failure to go to the Titanic's assistance, or even to arouse his ship's wireless operator to investigate the reason for the emergency flares seen on the horizon, was found responsible for the deaths of most if not all of those lost on the Titanic.  The committee also criticizes lax regulation and hasty inspection by the British government authorities.  This will be a major focus of the British investigation conducted by Lord Mersey, which began May 2 and is under way at month's end.

Captain Rostron and Mrs. Brown

The senate report praises the actions of Arthur Henry Rostron, the captain of the Carpathia, who at risk to his own ship's safety raced at top speed through the ice field to the Titanic's assistance.  The Carpathia, the first ship on the scene, arrived too late to save those on the Titanic or in the water, but rescued hundreds in the lifeboats.  On May 29 a committee of Titanic survivors represented by Mrs. J.J. ("Molly") Brown presented a loving cup to Captain Rostron in appreciation of his efforts.

Wilbur Wright

Wilbur and Orville Wright, brothers from Dayton, Ohio, are credited with the invention of the powered, heavier-than-air aeroplane.  On May 30, Wilbur Wright, aged 45, died unexpectedly of typhoid fever.

The First Flight (Orville airborne, Wilbur earthbound)

The Wright Brothers' first sustained and controlled flight took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.  Since then the brothers have been active in improving the design of flying machines and promoting aviation to the general public, as well as defending their numerous patents against challenges by Glenn Curtiss and others. The aeroplane's potential in military operations has only begun to be demonstrated.

Sheriff Carl Hayden

On May 13, Congress proposed an amendment to the Constitution providing for the popular election of United States senators.  The amendment has much popular support, and on May 22 Massachusetts became the first state to ratify it.  Unless and until it is ratified by three-fourths of the states, the provision of Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution that senators are selected by their state legislatures remains in effect.  In Arizona, the latest state admitted to the Union, the state legislature has selected Henry F. Ashurst and Marcus A. Smith, both Democrats, as the state’s first senators.  Arizona's lone member of the House of Representatives is Democrat Carl Hayden, formerly the sheriff of Maricopa County, who won an election held last year in anticipation of statehood.  One of Arizona’s first acts as a state after its admission to the Union was to ratify another amendment to the Constitution, this one authorizing a federal income tax.

Arizona is the newest state, and ragtime music is all the rage.  The two have been combined in this new popular song, recorded last month at the Victor Talking Machine Company's recording studio in Camden, New Jersey (Click to play):

Ragtime Cowboy Joe (sung by Bob Roberts)


Commander Charles Samson flying from the deck of HMS Hibernia, May 1912

In Britain, the King looked on with First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill and thousands of spectators as the Royal Navy conducted a naval review in Weymouth from May 7 to May 11.  Hundreds of warships participated, demonstrating the latest advances in naval gunnery and tactics, including the first take-off of an aeroplane from the deck of a ship under way.  Not to be outdone, the German Reichstag voted on May 10 and 14 to increase the size of the army and navy.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Woman suffrage in Britain continues to make the news.  On May 22, Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder and leader of the Women's Social and Political Union who is believed to have been involved in the recent window-smashing in London, and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, editors of Votes for Women, were found guilty of conspiracy at the Old Bailey and sentenced to nine months in prison.  In other news from Great Britain, Irish home rule took a step closer to reality when on May 9 the Government of Ireland Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons.

In Mexico, insurgent threats to the government of Francisco Madero continue.  Emiliano Zapata leads revolutionary forces in the south, while Pascual Orozco leads rebels in the north.  On May 4, former Interior Minister Emilio Vasquez Gomez returned to Juarez from the United States, seeking to join forces with Orozco.  He has proclaimed himself provisional president and has named Orozco his Minister of War.

May 1912 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, June and July 1912
Literary Digest, May 1912
New York Times, May 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
Lewis L. Gould, Grand Old Party, A History of the Republicans
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