Friday, August 31, 2012

August 1912

In August 1912 the Republicans and Democrats send committees to their presidential nominees to notify them of their nominations and hear their acceptance speeches. The new Progressive Party nominates Theodore Roosevelt for president, ensuring the defeat of President Taft and the election of the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson. The Senate passes the Panama Canal Bill, guaranteeing a diplomatic confrontation with Great Britain, where opposition to Irish home rule is gaining momentum. A New York police lieutenant is arrested for murder, and Clarence Darrow is acquitted after a 3-month trial for jury tampering. The Woolworth Building is nearing completion.


Republicans Notify President Taft of His Nomination

This month both major parties performed the traditional ritual of formally notifying their candidates of their nominations for the presidency.  On August 1, a delegation from the Republican nominating convention called on President Taft at the White House and notified him of his nomination for a second term. 

Democrats Notify Governor Wilson of His Nomination

The Democrats followed suit on August 7, when a delegation from the Baltimore convention traveled to the governor’s summer residence in Sea Girt, New Jersey, and gave Governor Wilson formal notification of his party’s nomination as the Democratic challenger.  In an innovation this year, Governor Wilson recorded his acceptance speech for distribution around the country during the campaign.  You can listen to part of it at

Jane Addams (right) Campaigning for Woman Suffrage

As Wilson was accepting the Democratic nomination, the Progressive Party, which has come into existence only in the few weeks since the Republican convention in June, was assembling in Chicago.  The call to the new party's banner was answered by reformers from all sections of the country.  For the first time at a major party convention, there were women delegates.  The best known was Jane Addams, the moving spirit behind Hull House, the settlement house she founded in Chicago in 1889.  A delegate from Illinois, she was also chosen to give a speech seconding the nomination of the party's standard-bearer, former President Theodore Roosevelt.  The groundbreaking entry of women onto the political stage occasioned little if any controversy, but the same cannot be said of the decision regarding the racial make-up of the delegations from the southern states.  Still smarting from the role of southern "black and tan" delegations in denying him the Republican nomination, and eager to gain support for his new party among white southern Democrats, Roosevelt insisted that Negroes be excluded from the southern states' delegations.  As a result, the southern delegations to the Progressive Party convention this year were "lily-white," unlike the Republican convention in June and unlike every other Republican convention since the Civil War.  (Democratic Party conventions, in contrast to the Republicans, have never had Negro delegates from any state, north or south.)

 Roosevelt Addressing the Progressive Party Convention

Roosevelt broke with the tradition that nominees do not address the convention but wait demurely at home for the official notification ceremony.  In June, still hoping to be the Republican nominee, he had traveled to Chicago to rally his supporters during the Republican convention.  This month he returned to Chicago to attend the new party’s convention, which was held in the same Chicago Coliseum that had housed the Republican convention seven weeks earlier.  On Monday, August 5, the first day of the convention, the Coliseum rang with the voices of delegates singing "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."  On the second day, Roosevelt appeared before the convention where he was greeted by an ovation lasting 57 minutes.  In his speech he repeated the call to arms he had first issued to the bolters from the Republican convention in June: “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord!”  The next day, August 7, the delegates voted unanimously to give him the party's nomination for president.  Governor Hiram Johnson of California was nominated for vice-president.

A British View of the Panama Canal Tolls Dispute

Ignoring the British government’s objections, the Senate passed the Panama Canal Bill on August 9.  By providing for free passage through the canal for American ships sailing between American ports, it gives those vessels a competitive advantage over ships of other nations (most objectionably from the British point of view those of Canada).  Congress takes the view that the United States is entitled to that advantage because it built the canal.  Great Britain bases its case on the provisions of the 1901 Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, in which Britain agreed to exclusive American control of an isthmian canal (abrogating the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850) in exchange for an American promise to grant access to the canal to ships of all nations on equal terms.  President Taft, who has supported the bill from its inception, signed it into law on August 24.  The British government is not likely to view this as the end of the matter.

Darrow Addressing the Jury

Clarence Darrow, the famous criminal defense lawyer who represented the McNamara brothers last year in their trial for dynamiting the Los Angeles Times building, has been on trial since May 15 for attempted bribery of George Lockwood, a prospective juror in that case.  On August 17, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.  An indictment for attempting to bribe another juror is still pending, but may not go to trial.

Police Lieutenant Charles Becker

Captivating though the political developments have been this year, they have been overshadowed this month by the sensational arrest, on July 29, of New York City Police Lieutenant Charles Becker for the murder of Herbert Rosenthal, a small-time bookmaker who had been running illegal gambling halls in the Tenderloin District, apparently in partnership with Becker.  After a falling out, Rosenthal had gone to the New York World with the story of Becker's corruption, and shortly thereafter he was gunned down outside the Hotel Metropole by gangsters with connections to Becker.  Becker denies complicity in the murder, which appears to have been actually carried out by denizens of the underworld known as "Gyp the Blood", "Lefty Louie", "Whitey" Lewis, and "Dago Frank."  District Attorney Charles Whitman, who is known to have ambitions for higher office, had scheduled a meeting with Rosenthal after the World story appeared, a meeting that failed to take place because of the murder.  Whitman now appears determined to pursue Becker to the full extent of the law.

The Woolworth Building

When completed, the Woolworth Building will be the tallest office building in the world, exceeding the height of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower on Madison Square, which has been the tallest since its completion in 1909.  The Woolworth Building's steel skeleton now looks down on two of its other predecessors, the Singer Building a few blocks down Broadway, which held the title until 1909, and the Park Row Building across City Hall Park, which the Singer Building overtook in 1908.  "Skyscraper" buildings of such height have been made possible in recent years by the advent of steel frame construction.

Mr. Andrew Bonar Law (left) and Sir Edward Carson (center, preparing to speak) at Blenheim

Resistance to Irish home rule is growing.  Last month Prime Minister Asquith visited Dublin and made a well-received speech in support of home rule.  In response, Unionist politicians held a rally on July 27 at Blenheim Palace, ancestral home of the Duke of Marlborough, where they denounced the Home Rule Bill in the strongest terms.  The principal speakers were Sir Edward Carson and Mr. Andrew Bonar Law, who recently assumed the leadership of the Unionist Party.  Both speakers encouraged defiance of home rule by the Protestants of Ulster, and did not appear to draw the line at violence.  Mr. Bonar Law declared at the end of his address that "I can imagine no length of resistance to which Ulster can go in which I would not be prepared to support them, and in which, in my belief, they would not be supported by the overwhelming majority of the British people"; and Sir Edward in his speech stated that Unionists opposed to home rule will "shortly challenge the Government to interfere with us if they dare, and we will with equanimity await the result."  Liberal politicians and newspapers have charged that statements such as these border on sedition.

Major Darwin

The British Eugenics Society recently hosted the First International Eugenics Conference in London.  The President of the Society is Major Leonard Darwin, whose father Charles Darwin formulated the theory of natural selection.  Major Darwin and other Eugenicists believe that society should take steps to improve the genetic quality of the human race by cutting off inherited defects through compulsory sterilization laws and selective breeding measures.  The conference was attended by numerous dignitaries, including First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill and former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour.

General William Booth

In other news, on August 19 Swiss aviator Edwin Audemars flew his aeroplane from Paris to Berlin, a distance of 530 miles, making four landings en route. On August 20, General William Booth died.  The founder of the Salvation Army in 1878, he was its commander in chief until his death.  It has been announced that his son Bramwell Booth will succeed him.  General Booth's funeral, which took place in London on August 28, was attended by more than 30,000 mourners.

August 1912 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
Contemporary Records and Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, September and October 1912
Literary Digest, August 3, 17 and 24, 1912
New York Times, August 1912

Books and Articles:
James Chace, 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs -- the Election That Changed the Country
Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, Volume II, Young Statesman 1901-1914
Lewis L. Gould, Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics
Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt
Patricia O'Toole, When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House
Hanes Walton, Jr. and C. Vernon Gray, Black Politics at the National Republican and Democratic Conventions, 1868-1972, Phylon (1960-), Vol. 36, No. 3 (3d Qtr. 1975)