Saturday, June 30, 2012

June 1912

1912 is shaping up as the most contentious, and the most consequential, election year in the United States since Abraham Lincoln's election fifty-two years ago propelled the country into the Civil War.  Both major political parties held their presidential nominating conventions this month, and both conventions included more than the usual amount of drama.

 Republicans Arriving at the Chicago Coliseum, June 1912

The Republicans went first, gathering at the Chicago Coliseum on June 18.  The campaign for the nomination was unprecedented in pitting a former president against an incumbent president of his own party.  Former President Roosevelt’s challenge to President Taft was hard-fought up to and through the convention, and now appears to be continuing into the general election contest.  As the convention began, Roosevelt had won most of the primaries, including most impressively in Taft’s home state of Ohio.  Most delegates, however, were chosen not in primaries but in conventions.  The outcome of the conventions varied from state to state, but most were controlled effectively by the party machinery favoring the incumbent president.  In some states insurgent factions supporting Roosevelt named rival slates of delegates, most of which were “lily-white” delegations in southern states that challenged the "black and tan" delegations named by the state party machines.  (For more about this, see the April 1912 installment of this blog).  The challenges were presented this month to the Republican National Committee, which met in Chicago prior to the convention.  Of 254 contested seats, the Committee awarded 235 to Taft and 19 to Roosevelt.

 Roosevelt as Bull Moose

Departing from the custom that candidates for the nomination do not attend the convention, Roosevelt traveled to Chicago, announcing on the way that he now supports women's suffrage.  He arrived two days before the convention opened, telling reporters he felt “as strong as a bull moose,” an image since picked up by his supporters and the press as the symbol of his campaign.  Addressing a group of his supporters in Chicago, he denounced the National Committee’s decision to award most of the disputed delegates to Taft and, for the first time, threatened to bolt the party:  “The parting of the ways has come … We fight in honorable fashion for the good of mankind; fearless of the future; unheeding of our individual fates; with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes; we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!”

Senator Elihu Root

As the convention opened, the first order of business was the selection of a chairman.  Senator Elihu Root was Taft’s choice.  Root was a long-time supporter of both Taft and Roosevelt.  He was Secretary of War under President William McKinley and continued in that position under Roosevelt, who appointed him Secretary of State in 1905 to succeed the late John Hay.  In 1909, as Roosevelt’s term ended, the New York legislature named Root to represent the state in the United States Senate.  Like Henry Cabot Lodge and many other establishment Republicans, Root supported Roosevelt during his tenure as president but has declined to support his attempt this year to deny the nomination to an incumbent Republican president.  The convention selected Root over Governor Francis McGovern of Wisconsin, the choice of the Roosevelt delegates, by a vote of 558 to 501.

 Governor Herbert Hadley

The convention then took up the Roosevelt forces’ challenge to 72 of the Taft delegates seated by the National Committee and confirmed by the Credentials Committee.  Governor Herbert Hadley of Missouri, a Roosevelt supporter, asked the chairman for a ruling that those 72 delegates could not vote on their own qualifications.  Root ruled that each of the challenged delegates would be voted on separately, and that while no delegate could vote on his own qualifications, each could vote on the qualifications of the other 71.  This ruling effectively ensured that the Taft delegates would be seated.

Vice President Sherman

As Root ruled in favor of the Taft forces and the challenges to the disputed Taft delegates were defeated, cries of “steamroller!” interspersed with “toot-toot!” and “choo-choo!” from the Roosevelt delegates echoed through the hall.  Roosevelt released a statement, which was read to the convention, accusing the Taft forces of theft.  His statement asserted that “the convention as now composed has no claim to represent the voters of the Republican Party” and that no one accepting the nomination under such circumstances could “ask the support of any honest man.”  As most Roosevelt delegates left the convention hall or refused to vote, the convention adopted the platform proposed by the Taft delegates and nominated Taft for president on the first ballot.  Vice President James S. (“Sunny Jim”) Sherman was also nominated for a second term.  Meanwhile, Roosevelt delegates gathered across town in Orchestra Hall and nominated Roosevelt for president. Roosevelt appeared and promised to “make the fight … even if only one state should support me.”

 Democrats arriving at the Fifth Regiment Armory, June 1912

As the Republican convention drew to a close, delegates to the Democratic convention were assembling in Baltimore, their optimism enhanced by the reports from Chicago.  One of the delegates, in fact, had observed the Republican convention first-hand.  William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, had covered the Republican convention as a correspondent for the New York World.  When he arrived in Baltimore on June 23 as a member of the Nebraska delegation, he had plans to play a major role in his party's deliberations.  He had, in fact, already made his first move.

 Judge Alton B. Parker

Before leaving Chicago, Bryan had learned of the decision of the Committee on Arrangements to recommend Judge Alton B. Parker of New York as temporary chairman of the convention, a position that includes delivery of the keynote address.  Parker, a leader of the northern conservative faction of the party, was the party’s unsuccessful candidate for president in 1904, the only election of the last four in which Bryan was not the nominee.  When Bryan learned of the Committee’s recommendation, he sent identical telegrams to the two leading candidates for the nomination, Speaker Champ Clark and Governor Woodrow Wilson, in which he denounced the choice of Parker and asked for the candidates' support in opposing him.  (Both Wilson and Clark had claimed the progressive label and sought Bryan’s endorsement for the nomination; Bryan had made it clear that the conservative candidates Harmon and Underwood were unacceptable).  Clark, a long-time supporter of Bryan who was trying to remain on good terms with all factions in the party, sent Bryan a cordial but noncommittal reply; Wilson, a more recent convert to the progressive cause, replied with a strong endorsement of Bryan’s position.

 Inside the Armory as the Convention Opened

The convention was called to order on June 25.  At the outset, it was clear that no candidate had the support of the 728 delegates (two-thirds of the total) necessary for the nomination.  Based on his primary victories and his success in a number of state party conventions, Clark appeared to have the advantage.  His reply to Bryan’s telegram was typical of Clark’s approach, in which his main goal was to avoid alienating any potential supporters.  In the floor contest between Parker and Bryan for the temporary chairmanship, Parker narrowly prevailed, but Wilson’s forthright support of Bryan would pay dividends.  The Wilson forces prevailed in two other preliminary votes, one that struck down unit rules imposed by state conventions on delegates selected by primaries (the only state affected was Ohio, in which a minority of the delegates wished to vote for Wilson) and one that seated Wilson rather than Clark delegates from South Dakota.  At this point Bryan stirred the pot again.  He introduced a resolution declaring the convention’s opposition “to the nomination of any candidate for president who is the representative of or under obligation to J. Pierpont Morgan, Thomas F. Ryan, August Belmont, or any other member of the privilege-hunting or favor-seeking class” and demanding the withdrawal from the convention of any delegate “constituting or representing the above-named interests.”  After the pandemonium subsided, Bryan withdrew the latter language (demanding withdrawal of delegates) and the resolution passed easily (even the Virginia delegation, of which Thomas F. Ryan was a member, voted for it).

 Clark Supporters Demonstrating In Support of His Nomination

The stage was now set for the balloting.  Because Clark had a substantial lead in pledged delegates, Wilson’s immediate challenge was to prevent Clark’s nomination on an early ballot.  The Texas delegation, which was solidly for Wilson thanks to the preliminary work of Colonel Edward M. House and other Wilson men in the state, began working the Underwood delegations from the Deep South states, promising Texas’s vote for Underwood if Wilson should begin to falter in return for those delegations’ promise not to vote for Clark as long as Wilson remained viable.  When the balloting began, Clark got off to a strong start, leading Wilson by about 100 votes on each of the first nine ballots.  Then Tammany Hall, which controlled New York’s 90 votes and had been casting them for Governor Harmon, decided that the psychologically auspicious time had come.  On the tenth ballot it threw its support to Clark.  With Tammany’s switch, Clark had the votes of a majority of the delegates, but still less than the necessary two-thirds.  No candidate since the Civil War who received a majority vote had failed to win the party's nomination.  Nevertheless, the two-thirds rule gives the South an effective veto, and at this point the delegations from the Deep South, honoring their deal with the Texas delegation and still hoping for their candidate’s nomination, exercised that veto by continuing to cast their votes for Underwood.  Ironically, Wilson had become the beneficiary of the same two-thirds rule that he had earlier opposed and had attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade the Democratic National Committee to repeal.

 Bryan Addressing the Convention

Four ballots later, Bryan moved another obstacle into Clark’s path to the nomination.  As a member of the Nebraska delegation, he was committed to vote for Clark on the early ballots, and he had done so.  But when the roll call reached Nebraska on the fourteenth ballot, he rose and asked for permission to explain his vote.  Striding to the podium, he told the convention he was switching his vote from Clark to Wilson.  He explained that, because Tammany Hall had now given its support to Clark, Clark’s nomination would be tainted by having been brought about by “the interests,” and told the delegates that, as long as New York continued to vote for Clark, he would refuse to cast his vote for the speaker.  Bryan’s pledge was less than an unqualified endorsement of Wilson, since it would presumably also require him to oppose Wilson should he receive New York’s vote.  More likely, Bryan had in mind a possible convention deadlock, creating the possibility that it might turn for a fourth time to Bryan himself.  The immediate effect, however, was to begin a gradual slippage of votes in Wilson's favor.  On the twentieth ballot Kansas switched its votes from Clark to Wilson. Massachusetts abandoned Clark for a favorite son on the twenty-second ballot, and on the twenty-fourth ballot Wilson’s vote total topped 400 for the first time.  At the end of the day on Saturday, June 29, the twenty-sixth ballot still had Wilson trailing, 407 ½ votes to Clark’s 463 ½.  The following day being Sunday, the convention took the day off, and the month of June ended with the nomination still in doubt as an alarmed Speaker Clark rushed to Baltimore to rally his supporters.  While the trend at month's end seemed to favor Wilson, he was still a long way from a majority, let alone the two-thirds vote necessary to prevail.


USS Constitution Defeating HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812

On June 17, the United States observed the one hundredth anniversary of the War of 1812.  Congress declared war on Great Britain on that date in 1812 and President James Madison signed the declaration the following day. The cause of the war was the repeated infringement of America’s neutral rights by Great Britain during the massive struggle taking place in Europe between the British and the French empire of Napoleon; and it ended only after Napoleon’s defeat and exile to Elba in 1814.  The land war between the United States and Great Britain was mostly inconclusive, and the war at sea hardly threatened Britain's overall maritime dominance.  The war did, however, demonstrate the prowess of the infant U.S. Navy, most impressively in the defeat of several British warships by USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”).  This month’s centennial of the War of 1812 may serve as a reminder that America’s isolation from conflicts in Europe is not absolute, and that an American declaration of neutrality in a major European war is not a guarantee of non-involvement.

The Presidential Yacht Mayflower Carrying President Taft to SMS Moltke, 
Flagship of the German Battleship Squadron

President Taft Boarding SMS Moltke

For the time being, however, the United States appears to be on good terms with nations throughout the world.  This month the German Navy paid a visit to the United States.  A German battleship squadron arrived at Hampton Roads on June 2, where it was greeted in person by President Taft, who visited the German admiral aboard the squadron's flagship, calling it "one of the finest ships I've ever seen."  The president cabled the kaiser saluting the cordial relations between the two countries, and the kaiser cabled his thanks to the president for the warm welcome.

The Mayor's Committee Aboard SMS Moltke

On June 9 the German battleship squadron proceeded to New York, escorted by U.S. Navy battleships and torpedo-boat destroyers.  As they entered New York Harbor, the German and American ships were greeted by salutes from cannons on Governor's Island and by welcoming throngs of New Yorkers, many of German origin or descent, waiting at the Battery.  Thousands more cheered them as they cruised majestically up the Hudson and dropped anchor in line along the New Jersey shore, across the river from West 79th Street to Grant's Tomb.  A delegation sent by Mayor Gaynor boarded the Moltke to extend the City's official welcome, and the following day the Mayor entertained German and American officers at a banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria.

 Zeppelin III in Flight

On June 1, the new German dirigible Zeppelin III made its maiden voyage from Friedrichshaven to Hamburg, a distance of 450 miles.  The next day it flew non-stop from Hamburg to Bremen and back to Hamburg.


Harry Lauder

Blackface minstrelsy is not the only kind of ethnic entertainment that is immensely popular these days.  Vaudeville could hardly exist without acts performed in German, Jewish, Irish, Swedish and other dialects.  One of the most popular entertainers of the last several years on both sides of the Atlantic is Scotsman Harry Lauder, who performs in Scottish highland dress and sings his songs in a rollicking Scottish accent.  This year his "Roamin' in the Gloamin'" is one of the most popular songs in both the United States and Great Britain (click to play):



President Gomez

Racial disturbances in Cuba have endangered the government of President Jose Miguel Gomez and have caused the United States to send Navy and Marine contingents to protect American citizens and property.  The marines landed at Daiquiri on May 31, and the battleships Ohio and Minnesota arrived at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay on June 7.  At President Gomez's request, the Cuban Congress has suspended constitutional guarantees.  Government forces defeated the insurgents in several engagements near Santiago from June 12 to 14, and in another engagement near Santiago on June 27 insurgent leader Everisto Estenoz was killed.

 Unveiling of the Columbus Memorial, Washington, D.C.

In other developments around the world, serious disturbances in Belgium followed in the wake of parliamentary elections held June 2, which resulted in an increased majority for the Clerical Party.  In the United States, President Taft attended a ceremony on June 8 on the plaza in front of Washington, D.C.'s new Union Station, where the Italian ambassador unveiled a monument to Christopher Columbus.  Responding to the tragic loss of life on the Titanic in April, the American Secretary of Commerce and Labor on June 14 approved new regulations requiring lifeboat accommodations for all persons on board ocean liners.  In the Italo-Turkish War, the Italian government reported victories over combined Turk and Arab forces at Homs on June 12 and Sidi Said on June 28.  A six-power consortium of international bankers agreed on June 20 on the terms of a $300,000,000 loan to the new Chinese republic, but the proposed terms were promptly rejected by the Chinese government.  In England, suffragists Mrs. Pankhurst and Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence were released on June 24 after serving one month of their nine-month sentences.  On June 25, Pascual Orozco offered to surrender to government troops in Mexico in return for amnesty for himself and his followers.

June 1912 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
Contemporary Records and Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, July and August 1912
Democratic National Convention, 1912, Official Report of Proceedings
New York Times, June 1912
Republican National Convention, 1912, Official Report of Proceedings

William J. Bryan, A Tale of Two Conventions
James Chace, 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs -- the Election That Changed the Country
Champ Clark, My Quarter Century of American Politics
Josephus Daniels, The Wilson Era
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
William G. McAdoo, The Crowded Years
Patricia O'Toole, When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House
Henry F. Pringle, The Life and Times of William Howard Taft
Joseph Tumulty, Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him