Monday, December 31, 2012

December 1912

It's December 1912.  President Taft visits the almost-completed Panama Canal, President-elect Wilson returns from his Bermuda vacation, the governor of South Carolina tells lynchers they have nothing to fear, and the war in the Balkans either will or will not metastasize. We have our fingers crossed for 1913.


 President Taft and His Party in Key West

It was announced on December 18 that President Taft has accepted an offer from Yale University to join its faculty next year as Kent Professor of Law.  Shortly afterward he and Mrs. Taft left on an inspection trip to the Panama Canal.  At Key West they boarded the U.S.S. Arkansas (BB-33), one of the newest battleships in the United States fleet.  Prior to getting under way from its home port in Newport News, the Arkansas' flag stateroom was refitted with an extra large bathtub to accommodate the presidential bulk.

U.S.S. Arkansas Under Way Earlier This Year

On Christmas, after spending the day inspecting the progress of the canal construction, the president left the Canal Zone to attend a ball in his honor in Panama City.  On the way to the celebration, he passed down Central Avenue, the city's main thoroughfare.  An explosion destroyed a kiosk on the Avenue a few minutes after he passed by, seriously injuring one bystander.  The president and his party were not injured.  The following day, before his departure, Taft announced his selection of Colonel George Washington Goethals, the canal’s chief engineer, to be the first civil governor of the Canal Zone.

Colonel George W. Goethals


Wilson and Bryan in Trenton, December 21, 1912

During his post-election vacation in Bermuda, President-elect Wilson was invited to observe a session of the colonial assembly.  At the end of the session he gave a brief speech which the delegates received with loud cheers.  He returned to New York on December 15, and on December 17 he attended a dinner given by the Southern Society at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  The Society gave the nation's first southern-born president since Zachary Taylor an enthusiastic reception.  In his speech, Wilson saluted the men of Virginia for their willingness during the Civil War to "fight to the death for the things in which they believed."   Although slavery was of no economic benefit, he said, they fought for the principle "that they had a right to order their own affairs."  He then addressed the concerns of the business community, saying that while many think the new administration "may disturb business," that will not happen "except as it disturbs the minds of business men," and he promised to build a "gibbet ... high as Haman's" for anyone who would use the machinery of the markets to precipitate a panic.  On his way back to Washington on December 21, he stopped in Trenton, New Jersey to confer with William Jennings Bryan.  Given his long-time leadership of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and his key role in securing Wilson's nomination in Baltimore, Bryan is assumed to be the president-elect's inevitable choice for Secretary of State in the new administration.  After returning to Washington the president-elect visited Staunton, Virginia, where he was given a warm greeting by the residents of his birthplace.

 Josephus Daniels

Another man seemingly assured of a cabinet position is Josephus Daniels, the North Carolina newspaper editor and Democratic Party activist who strongly supported Wilson for the nomination.  Daniels is known in North Carolina for his leadership of the successful campaign in the late 1890's to secure the Democratic Party's control of the state through legislation making it difficult or impossible for Negroes to vote. By the early 1900's, every state of the former Confederacy had enacted some kind of legislation (such as literacy tests, grandfather clauses, poll taxes and white primaries) with that avowed goal.

Governor Blease

The fifth annual governors' conference took place this month in Richmond, Virginia.  South Carolina's governor, Coleman Livingston Blease, has been criticized for his expansive use of the pardon power, in particular his routine pardoning of white men arrested for lynching Negroes.  In a speech to the conference, Governor Blease said he would continue to grant pardons when they are justified, and cited cases in which he had pardoned Negroes as well as white men.  He justified his policy by citing the poor conditions he had observed in the state's penitentiary, which he said was a "tuberculosis incubator"; and he described one case of a Negro man who had spent 22 years in jail for stealing a $27 watch.  He was unapologetic about his pardoning of lynchers, stating that he "will never order out the militia to shoot down their neighbors and protect a black brute who commits a crime against a white woman. ... [W]hen a Negro assaults a white woman all that is needed is that they get the right man, and they who get him will neither need nor receive a trial."  Governor Blease's views on the subject of criminal justice are not shared by most southern governors.  Governor George Washington Donaghey of Arkansas, for example, is also known for his generous use of the pardon power, but not for lynchers.  He told the conference that in his opinion nothing short of the death penalty would deter murderers, and that he thinks lynchers are no different from other murderers.

 Governor Hadley

Governor Herbert Hadley of Missouri, who was a strong supporter of Colonel Roosevelt for the Republican nomination this year, is trying to patch the Republican Party back together.  After the Governors' Conference in Richmond, he visited Washington and made the rounds on Capitol Hill, promoting his idea of a Republican convention to be held this year, not to nominate candidates but to reunite the party.  His idea seems to have met with little favor so far.  Colonel Roosevelt himself has a very different idea.  Speaking at a Progressive Party conference in Chicago on December 9, he denounced both political parties and vowed a four-years fight for progressive principles in every state legislature. The conference unanimously endorsed the Colonel for president in 1916.

Colonel Archibald Gracie

Almost eight months after the sinking of the Titanic, a birth and a death occurred, both with connections to the disaster.  John Jacob Astor VI was born on December 2.  Both of his parents were on the Titanic; his mother was rescued but his father, John Jacob Astor IV, was lost.  Survivors report that Astor asked if he could accompany his pregnant wife in her lifeboat, and when he was told that only women and children were being boarded he accepted the decision gracefully and was not seen again.  Another prominent passenger survived the sinking but died on December 4.  After the ship went down, Colonel Archibald Gracie struggled to the surface and survived by climbing onto the keel of an overturned lifeboat along with several other men.  He spent the night there, soaked and shivering, before being dragged onto another lifeboat in the early morning light.  He was haunted to his final days by memories of the sinking, and had just finished writing a book describing his experiences.

E. H. Harriman

When Collis P. Huntington, the last of the "Big Four" founders of the Southern Pacific Railroad, died in 1900, E. H. Harriman's Union Pacific Railroad began buying Southern Pacific stock, eventually acquiring a forty-six percent interest.  On December 2 of this year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Union Pacific's ownership interest in the Southern Pacific violated the Sherman Act's prohibition on "combinations in restraint of trade."  This ruling follows the Court's decisions last year dissolving the Standard Oil and American Tobacco trusts.  In those decisions the Court ruled in favor of the government, but read into the Act a "rule of reason," raising concerns about the ultimate effectiveness of the Sherman Act in protecting competition.  This month's decision, because it was unanimous and because it treated a controlling (though minority) stock interest as a "combination," may allay some of those concerns.

J. P. Morgan with his son and daughter arriving for the Pujo Committee hearings

Earlier this year, at the urging of Representative Charles Lindbergh (Rep., Minn.) and others, a special committee under the chairmanship of Representative Arsene Pujo (Dem., La.) was formed to investigate the so-called "Money Trust."  With the convening of Congress this month, hearings resumed on December 9.  Samuel Untermeyer, the Committee's counsel, examined several witnesses, including Walter Frew, director of the Bankers Trust Company, and J. P. Morgan, founder and chairman of J. P. Morgan & Co., who ridiculed the idea that there was or could be such a thing as a money trust.

Rosalie Gardiner Jones (center) with other suffragists

A group of women led by "General" Rosalie Gardiner Jones left New York City on December 16 on a "suffrage hike" to Albany to demand votes for women.  Miss Jones is a Long Island socialite who has taken a leading role in the cause of woman suffrage.  Braving sore feet and snowstorms, the hikers reached Albany on December 28.  On the last day of the year they presented a petition to Governor-elect William Sulzer, who promised them his support.

Governor-elect Sulzer

Sulzer's term as governor will begin with the new year.  His political career thus far has been as a loyal member of Tammany Hall and beneficiary of its support.  Since his election, however, he has shown signs of independence that must be raising eyebrows at the Tammany Wigwam on Fourteenth Street.  Perhaps inspired by Woodrow Wilson's success in presenting himself as a progressive reformer after using machine support to get elected, Sulzer has lately been insisting that he will take directions from no one in staffing his administration and carrying out the people's business.  It remains to be seen how Sulzer's declaration of independence will affect his political future.  Tammany Hall's power in the New York Democratic Party is considerably greater than the Smith machine's ever was in New Jersey.

Anita Loos

“The New York Hat” was released on December 5.  Filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey, directed by D.W. Griffith, written by Anita Loos and starring Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore, it is one of the latest moving picture productions of the Biograph Studios (click to play):

The New York Hat


Greek Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis

The fighting in the Balkans has been partially suspended, but still threatens to expand into a much wider war.  With Austria-Hungary mobilizing to head off Serbian expansion to the Adriatic, Germany announced the renewal of its Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy, and warned Russia not to interfere.  France announced its intention to support Russia, and Great Britain is expected to support its fellow members of the Triple Entente, France and Russia.  Offering hope of a peaceful resolution, the major European powers agreed to convene in London in an attempt to resolve the crisis, and Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro agreed to an armistice with Turkey.  Even as those hopeful signs were emerging, however,  the Turkish fleet sortied to challenge Greek control of the Aegean and a battle ensued off the coast of Gallipoli.  The Greek fleet, commanded by Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis, won a decisive victory, forcing the Turks to retreat to the safety of the Dardanelles, under the protective guns of the Turkish forts.  On December 23 in London, the Balkan allies presented their territorial demands, which if implemented would effectively end Turkish sovereignty in Europe. 

Prime Minister Katsura Taro

Former Prime Minister Katsura Taro returned to the premiership of Japan on December 17.  This will be his third term as prime minister.  In his first, he entered into a mutual defense treaty with Great Britain in 1902 and presided over Japan’s 1905 victory in the Russo-Japanese War.  In his second, he negotiated the Korean Annexation Treaty of 1910, under which Japan now rules the Korean peninsula.

Ambassador Whitelaw Reid

On December 9, Great Britain formally protested the Panama Canal legislation that was signed into law earlier this year by President Taft.  The British object to the provision granting free passage to American ships traveling between American ports, arguing that it violates the term of the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901 that provides for equal access to the canal for ships of all nations.  Britain demands repeal of that provision, or in the alternative that the issue be submitted to international arbitration.  Further discussion of the issue was momentarily interrupted by the death on December 15 of Whitelaw Reid, the American ambassador to the United Kingdom.  Reid was a newspaper editor and prominent Republican.  In addition to his service as ambassador to England, Reid served as ambassador to France in the Benjamin Harrison administration and was President Harrison's running mate in his unsuccessful bid for reelection in 1892.

Sir Robert Borden with First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill

On December 5, Secretary of the Navy George von Lengerke Meyer submitted a request to Congress for an appropriation to build three new first-class battleships for the United States Navy.  On the same day, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden asked the Canadian parliament for an appropriation to build three dreadnoughts for the Royal Navy.  He explained that the cost of imperial defense had become too great for the United Kingdom alone to bear, and that it is now necessary for the dominions to make a contribution.  He added that the ships would be subject to recall to the Canadian navy if circumstances required.

December 1912 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
Contemporary Records and Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, January and February 1913
Literary Digest, December 1912
New York Times, December 1912

Books and Articles:
James Chace, 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs -- the Election That Changed the Country
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Patrick Devlin, Too Proud to Fight: Woodrow Wilson's Neutrality
Andre Gerolymatos, The Balkan Wars 
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
Richard C. Hall, Balkan Wars 1912-1913: Prelude to the First World War
Erle Heath, Seventy-Five Years of Progress: A Historical Sketch of the Southern Pacific, 1869-1944
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
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