Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 1913

In February 1913, William Howard Taft is still the United States President, despite having suffered a landslide defeat in his bid for reelection almost four months earlier.  He's sent the Army and Navy to the border with Mexico, where the unstable rule of President Francisco Madero has come to a bloody end.  President-elect Woodrow Wilson is keeping his own counsel on developments in Mexico as well as the formation of a new government at home.  Grand Central opens in New York and the income tax amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified.  War resumes in the Balkans after a brief hiatus, and there's sad news from Captain Scott's Antarctic expedition.  Tensions between Great Britain and Germany are easing.  Or maybe not.


Robert Falcon Scott

On February 10, the Terra Nova reached New Zealand with news that the bodies of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his companions were found in the Antarctic in November.  According to the diaries found with the bodies, the five men who had made the final push for the South Pole reached it on January 18, 1912, only to discover that the Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen had gotten there a month earlier.  On their return journey one of them, Petty Officer Evans, died from a fall.  The remaining four were trapped in a blizzard as their provisions ran out.  The frozen bodies of three of them, Captain Scott, Dr. Wilson and Lieutenant Bowers, were found in their tent.  The other member of the group, Captain Oates, had left the tent and died of exposure. They were 155 miles from Cape Evans, where they were to rendezvous with the Terra Nova, and only about eleven miles from One Ton Depot, where shelter and supplies were waiting.

Victoriano Huerta

On February 9, revolutionaries led by Felix Diaz, the nephew of deposed President Porfirio Diaz who had recently escaped from prison, entered Mexico City and besieged the National Palace.  Nine days later, the troops defending President Francisco Madero forced him to resign and proclaimed Victoriano Huerta president.  The next day Huerta was elected president by a vote of the Mexican Congress, and Gustavo Madero, the president's brother and close adviser, was seized on the street and killed.  On February 22 President Madero and his vice president, Pino Suarez, were shot to death on their way to prison.  According to the Huerta government, they died while "attempting to escape."  President Taft has stated that he has no intention of intervening in the Mexican turmoil, but he has sent four American warships to Mexican waters and 10,000 troops to the border to be prepared to safeguard American lives and property.

William G. McAdoo

A joint session of the United States Congress met on February 12 and tabulated the electoral votes cast last month by the presidential electors.  Woodrow Wilson was officially declared the winner of the election.  He will be inaugurated on March 4, the same day the 62nd Congress will expire and the new Congress will take office.  The president-elect is taking a relaxed approach to selecting his cabinet.  It has previously been reported that William Jennings Bryan will have the job of secretary of state if he wants it, and that Josephus Daniels is likely to have one of the other cabinet positions.  Other probable appointees are William G. McAdoo, president of the Hudson & Manhattan Railway Co., Representative Albert S. Burleson of Texas, and Boston attorney Louis D. Brandeis, but no definite announcements have been made.  Governor Wilson has also refrained from taking a public position on the rapidly changing situation in Mexico.

Lawyers Celebrating the Income Tax

The Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted over a hundred years ago.  Three more were adopted in the aftermath of the Civil War, abolishing slavery and guaranteeing (in theory if not in practice) equal rights to the freed slaves.  Now there is a new wave of amendments, inspired by the progressive spirit of the times.  The Sixteenth Amendment, authorizing Congress to impose a tax on incomes, became part of the Constitution on February 3 when Delaware became the thirty-sixth state to ratify it, followed closely by Wyoming and New Mexico.  Legislation exercising the new taxing power is expected shortly, motivated in part by the desire to replace revenue lost due to tariff reductions and in part by the desire to make the government less dependent on the federal excise tax on alcoholic beverages.  As with all revenue measures, the House of Representatives will go first, and most observers expect it to adopt a levy in the neighborhood of one percent.  Meanwhile, a possible seventeenth amendment, providing for direct election of United States senators, was proposed last year and seems on its way to speedy ratification.  Another proposed amendment, limiting the president to a single term of six years, passed the Senate and moved to the House of Representatives on February 1.  The vote was 47-23, barely meeting the two-thirds requirement.

The New Terminal Nearing Completion

The new Grand Central Terminal opened at the location of the old Grand Central Depot at 42nd Street and Park Avenue in New York City on February 2.  It is the end of the line (hence "terminal") for the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad.  With the recent conversion of all trains entering and leaving the city from steam to electric power, the tracks will now be covered all the way from the terminal to 96th Street, creating a strip of potentially valuable real estate along Park Avenue.  A roadway is being constructed around the terminal to accommodate Park Avenue traffic.

William Randolph Hearst

Construction of subways in New York City is mired in controversy.  Two private companies, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, have promoted competing plans to build an expanded subway system   The City of New York has proposed dual contracts, under which both companies are to begin construction.  William Randolph Hearst, the publisher of the New York Journal, is leading the opposition.  He believes that subway construction and operation should be a municipal function.  Advocates and opponents of the City's plan journeyed to Albany early this month to argue their case before Governor Sulzer.  The controversy has now moved to the courts, where a motion to vacate a temporary injunction against the contracts was recently argued in the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court.

Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz

With the expiration of the armistice on February 3, the Balkan allies have renewed their war with the Ottoman Empire, launching an attack on the Turkish stronghold of Adrianople.  Responding to a report that the former Grand Vizier Kiamil Pasha had offered to neutralize the city as part of a peace agreement, the Turkish commander there, Thukri Pasha, delivered a message of defiance, denouncing such "cowardice" and threatening not only to fight to the last man but also, if he "see[s] that further resistance is useless," to turn his guns on the 40,000 Bulgarians living in the city.  In an attempt to relieve the pressure on Adrianople, Ottoman forces attacked Bulgarian troops in the Gallipoli peninsula.  After several hours of fierce fighting, the Turkish troops withdrew.  The Turkish ambassador to Great Britain has asked the British foreign minister to persuade the European powers convening in London to intervene to stop the fighting, and another former grand vizier, Ibrahim Hakki Pasha, is reported to be leading a peace delegation to London.  With the winds of war swirling in the Balkans, the major European powers are reacting at home as well as in London.  The French government has proposed a supplemental military appropriation of $100,000,000, and Germany is apparently moderating its naval competition with Great Britain so that it can devote its resources to building its army.  On February 7 Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, Germany's Naval Secretary, told the Budget Committee of the Reichstag that he would welcome an agreement with Great Britain regarding fleet ratios, adding that the current ratio of 10 to 16 might be sufficient to satisfy Germany's defense requirements.  On the same day the new foreign minister, Gottlieb von Jagow, addressed the Committee regarding the international situation, and Germany's relations with Great Britain in particular. 

 Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel

The campaign for woman suffrage in Great Britain has continued unabated.  The month began with the arrest of Mrs. Leonora Cohen for smashing glass cases in the Jewel House at the Tower of London.  Another woman was arrested the same day for breaking store windows in Pall Mall.  The following week, greenhouses in Kew Gardens were smashed in the middle of the night, resulting in the destruction of a number of valuable plants.  Cards reading "Votes for Women" were found at the scene, but no one has been apprehended.  On February 19, a bomb partially destroyed a country house at Walton Heath where Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd-George was to stay on his next golf outing.  Later that day Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst told an audience at Cardiff that she took full responsibility for the act.  Comparing the British suffragists with Mexican revolutionaries who had imprisoned members of the Madero government, she said "We have not got any ministers in prison yet, but we have blown up the Chancellor of the Exchequer's house."  She said she would go on a hunger strike if sent to prison.  Ironically, Mr. Lloyd-George is a supporter of woman suffrage.

Employing a somewhat less destructive tactic, some suffragists have sent envelopes to cabinet ministers containing red pepper or snuff designed to blow into the eyes when opened.  At least one parliamentary secretary has been temporarily blinded after being "peppered by post."

The Mauretania in New York Last Year

Both of the principal luxury liners of the Cunard Steamship Line, the Mauretania and the Lusitania, were in the news this month.  The Mauretania arrived in New York on February 8 a day behind schedule after encountering ferocious storms in the North Atlantic on its voyage from Liverpool.  Engineers had been concerned about how a vessel of its size would withstand the battering it would receive in extremely rough seas, especially under the stress the hull would experience as it was lifted and suspended between giant waves fore and aft.  The Mauretania experienced just such a storm on its latest voyage.  As it arrived in New York, however, although its superstructure was severely damaged, the integrity of its hull proved upon inspection to be unimpaired.  The Mauretania's sister ship, the Lusitania, did not fare so well, though from a less dramatic injury.  In December, as it was entering Fishguard Harbour on the north coast of Wales, the steering mechanism failed due to a small piece of marline that had dropped into the telemotor, the hydraulic system by which the steering gear is operated from the bridge.  To avoid a collision with a ship leaving port, the engines were thrown into emergency reverse.  Subsequent inspection has revealed that the maneuver overstressed and damaged the blades on the ship's newly installed turbines, requiring a major overhaul.  The Lusitania is expected to be out of service for six to eight months.

 Admiral Count Yamamoto Gonbei

Katsura Taro's tenure as prime minister of Japan has been short-lived.  Demonstrations against his return to power and a loss of support in the Diet caused him to resign this month.  He has been replaced by Admiral Count Yamamoto Gonbei.

Thomas Edison examining motion picture film in his studio last year

The famous inventor Thomas A. Edison turned 66 on February 11.  Among his inventions have been the phonograph, the modern electric light bulb, and the motion picture camera, as well as a system for the generation and distribution of municipal electric power.  In 1906 he organized the Motion Picture Patents Company, a patent pool that seeks, by combining and enforcing the members' patents, to exclude potential competitors from all aspects of the production, distribution and exhibition of motion pictures.

Guglielmo Marconi

An inventor of the younger generation, the 38 year old Italian Guglielmo Marconi, was also in the news this month.  Marconi is credited with inventions in the field of radio that make possible long-distance wireless communication.  In 1901 he received the first transatlantic wireless transmission, sent from a high-powered transmitter in Cornwall, England, to a receiver on Signal Hill at the entrance to the harbor at St. John's, Newfoundland.  Last year his wireless apparatus was used by the Titanic to transmit distress calls after it struck an iceberg off the Newfoundland coast.  Last month, a Marconi device was used to send a wireless message from Sayville, New York to Nauen, Germany, and this month it was announced that Marconi's company has awarded contracts to a construction firm to build a series of transmitting and receiving stations designed to enable the first wireless communication across the Pacific, from San Francisco to the island of Oahu in the Sandwich Islands, and ultimately to Japan and India.

John McGraw (left) and Boston Manager Jake Stahl at Last Year's World Series 

It was announced this month that Jim Thorpe, whose Olympic medals were stripped from him when it was learned that he had been paid for playing baseball, will now play baseball again, this time in the major leagues.  New York Giants Manager John McGraw has signed Thorpe to play outfield for the Giants in the 1913 season. The Giants won the National League pennant last year, but lost to the Red Sox in the World Series, four games to three, with one tie (the second game was called after eleven innings on account of darkness).

February 1913 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, March and April 1913
New York Times, February 1913

Books and Articles:

John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest
Patrick Devlin, Too Proud to Fight: Woodrow Wilson's Neutrality
Andre Gerolymatos, The Balkan Wars
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Richard C. Hall, Balkan Wars 1912-1913: Prelude to the First World War
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Paul M. Kennedy, The Rise of Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-1914
Robert K Massie, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany and the Coming of the Great War
Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
Joseph Tumulty, Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him