Friday, May 31, 2013

May 1913

May 1913:  War ends in the Balkans, at least for the time being. Meanwhile, in the United States, international irritations fester with Japan, Mexico and Great Britain, but Congress and the president are focused on tariff reform. Violence in the cause of woman suffrage continues in Great Britain. Over forty years before the fictional trial in Anatomy of a Murder takes place there, Marquette, Michigan is the venue for a high-profile case involving former President Roosevelt. A royal wedding takes place in Berlin.


King Nicholas of Montenegro

Under intense diplomatic and military pressure, King Nicholas of Montenegro announced on May 6 that he would "place the destiny of Scutari in the hands of the great powers."  This cleared the way for resolution of the conflict in the Balkans, culminating in the signing of a peace treaty in London on May 30.  The treaty, however, may not bring peace to that part of the world.  Territorial disputes between Bulgaria and its former allies Serbia, Greece and Roumania threaten to spark additional hostilities.

Viscount Chinda

Progressive Governor Hiram Johnson of California signed the Alien Land Bill into law on May 19.  Japanese immigrants are now prohibited from owning or inheriting land in California, and from leaseholds of more than three years.  President Wilson had requested that Governor Johnson delay implementing the law to allow diplomatic discussions with Japan to continue without interruption, but the governor refused.  A few days earlier, Arizona Governor George W. P. Hunt, a Democrat, signed a similar law for his state.  Such laws, together with the United States' development of a naval base and coaling station in the Hawaiian Islands and the forthcoming completion of a canal at the isthmus of Panama, has spurred talk about possible hostilities with Japan.  Both governments, however, have discouraged any such speculation.  As the California law was being signed, Secretary Bryan delivered a note to the Japanese ambassador, Viscount Chinda, who had protested the move.  Bryan's reply assures the Japanese government that the law is not racially motivated and expresses the wish that friendly relations between the two governments might continue.

The Culebra Cut

The completion of the Panama Canal moved a step closer to realization on May 18 when a huge blast obliterated a temporary dike between the Miraflores Locks and the Bay of Panama, allowing the Pacific Ocean to flow into the canal for the first time.  The blast was felt in Panama City, five miles away.  Six days later and a few miles inland, steam shovels working from opposite directions met in the Culebra Cut, completing the first through cut from ocean to ocean.  Whistles blew and workmen cheered as the last scoop of earth connecting North and South America was removed.

Sir Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice

The question of Panama Canal tolls continues to vex Anglo-American relations.  The new British ambassador to the United States arrived this month, and this issue is high on his agenda.  His assumption of his ambassadorial duties coincides with the arrival in America of a British Empire delegation, including delegates from Canada, Newfoundland and Australia, sent to prepare for next year's celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Ghent, which inaugurated a century of peace between the United States and the United Kingdom.  The new ambassador, Sir Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice, is a close friend of former President Roosevelt (he was best man at Roosevelt's wedding in 1886).  As such, he may not be the most fortunate choice to represent Great Britain in the Wilson administration; nevertheless, there is every reason to hope that the tolls issue will be amicably resolved.

Henry Lane Wilson

Mexico is another country whose relations with the United States are strained.  The Wilson administration has refused to recognize the regime of Victoriano Huerta, who seized power in February in a coup that toppled and killed (while "attempting to escape") President Francisco Madero.  On May 8, Huerta declared that until recognition is forthcoming Mexico will no longer recognize American Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson as the official representative of the United States. Replacing Wilson, who was appointed to the position by President Taft in 1910, is not a solution, because sending a new ambassador to Huerta would implicitly recognize the new regime as the legitimate government.  The Mexican situation is further complicated by suspicions that Ambassador Wilson himself was secretly instrumental in supporting, if not actively facilitating, the February coup.  On May 17, Secretary of State Bryan issued a statement denying that Ambassador Wilson's conduct is under investigation.

 Tariff Reform, Climbing the Senate Hill

The major issue in Congress this month has been the president's proposed tariff reform.  In general, tariff reduction appears to have broad public support, as demonstrated by the Democratic victories in the 1910 and 1912 elections.  Even with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, however, success is far from assured.  The Underwood bill, supported by the president, passed the House easily but has run into difficulty in the Senate, where agricultural interests are dominant and there is no mechanism for shutting off debate.  Several amendments have been offered, including revisions to the "free list" and to the proposed schedules for wool, cotton and sugar.  Impatient with companies that have made their views on the subject known to senators -- and also, implicitly, with senators who allow themselves to be influenced by them -- President Wilson issued a statement on May 26 blaming it all on "the lobby in Washington."  Cartoonists, as usual, said it best:

 The President and the Lobbyists


Roosevelt v. Newett

Former President Roosevelt is still making news.  During last year's presidential campaign, the Iron Ore, a weekly publication in Ishpeming, Michigan, published an editorial attacking Roosevelt, asserting that he "lies and curses in a most disgusting way; he gets drunk too, and that not infrequently, and all his intimates know about it."  Roosevelt, seeing an opportunity to counter rumors that had followed him throughout the campaign, instructed his lawyers to file suit for libel against the Iron Ore and its editor, George A. Newett.  At the trial, which began on May 26 in Marquette, Michigan, Roosevelt testified that he rarely drank and had never been intoxicated, testimony that was supported by a number of other witnesses.  When Roosevelt's friend Jacob Riis was asked about his cursing, he said he had "heard him use the expression 'Godfrey' when he gets very much excited."  When Newett took the stand, he admitted that he had been unable to find any witnesses who had seen Roosevelt drink to excess, but insisted that his assertion had been made in good faith.  After Newett finished his testimony, Roosevelt told the jury that he had brought the suit only to clear his name, and that he would be content with nominal damages.  After deliberation, the jury found in his favor and awarded him six cents, the amount Michigan law specifies for nominal damages.

Sergei Diaghilev

Igor Stravinsky's new ballet, the Rite of Spring, was performed for the first time on May 29 at the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris.  The performance was choreographed by Vaclav Nijinsky and performed by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russe.  It caused a sensation.  Shortly after the dissonant music and jerky dance movements began, the audience began to hiss and boo.  Critics and defenders came to blows, and the police had to be called.

The Kaiser and the King

A wedding in Berlin on May 24 was the occasion for a gathering of European royalty.  Princess Victoria Luise of Prussia, the only daughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, was married to Ernest Augustus, Prince Ernest of Cumberland, the son of the Duke of Brunswick and one of the King of England's many first cousins (the Kaiser is another).  King George and Queen Mary attended the wedding, as did the Czar of Russia (another cousin) and the Czar's eldest daughter Olga, who was a maid of honor.  The participants, as well as many observers of the international scene, chose to view the festivities as evidence of improved Anglo-German relations.  The Kaiser invited King George to attend Prussian Army maneuvers, where each monarch wore the uniform of his honorary rank of field marshal in the other's army.  As another token of the prevailing good will, the Kaiser pardoned and released three Englishmen convicted and imprisoned several years ago as British spies.

 The Astor House, in 1851 . . .

. . . and today.  (The Woolworth Building, which opened last month, looms in the background.)

The Astor House closed its doors on May 29.  It was built in 1836 by John Jacob Astor on the west side of Broadway, between Vesey and Barclay Streets.  For much of the Nineteenth Century, it was the most fashionable gathering place in New York City.  Abraham Lincoln spent a night at the Astor House on the way to his inauguration in 1861, and his Secretary of State William H. Seward, a former New York governor and senator, stayed there whenever he visited the city.  In recent years, as the city's wealthy families moved uptown and the area around the Astor House became more commercial, the old hotel lost much of its luster.

 Suffragists, Male and Female, March in New York

This has been an eventful month in the increasingly violent campaign for woman suffrage in Great Britain.  At the end of April, police raided the headquarters of the Women's Social and Political Union, taking away the books and documents they found there.  They also suppressed its weekly publication, The Suffragette, published by Christabel Pankhurst, which has lately begun advocating criminal attacks in support of the cause.  The government has also prohibited suffrage meetings, a move that led to a massive demonstration in Trafalgar Square on May 4 in defense of free speech.  On May 7 a makeshift bomb was found in the chancel of St. Paul's Cathedral which would have caused serious damage but for the fact that it had been incorrectly set.  Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, Christabel's mother, who was released from prison last month a few days after beginning a hunger strike, was rearrested on May 26.  The government's policy now is defined by the recently enacted "Cat and Mouse" legislation, which provides for the release of hunger strikers whose health is endangered, followed by their rearrest when they have recovered sufficiently to resume serving their sentences.  One reason woman suffrage has failed so far in the United Kingdom is that it is opposed by the Irish Party, whose support is essential to the Liberal government of Prime Minister Asquith.  In the United States, meanwhile, the campaign for woman suffrage continues to gather momentum, but without the violence.  On May 3, 10,000 supporters of votes for women marched peacefully up Fifth Avenue.

Domingo Rosillo

On May 17 Domingo Rosillo won the $10,000 prize offered by the City Council of Havana by becoming the first person to fly from the United States to Cuba.  His flight, from Key West across the Florida Straits, took two hours and eight minutes, longer than originally planned due to strong headwinds.  When he landed at Camp Columbia outside Havana, his aircraft was down to its last few drops of gasoline and lubricating oil.  An enthusiastic crowd of 50,000 greeted Rosillo at the Havana waterfront.

 The Fatal Fight (Luther McCarty on the Right)

Luther McCarty, the unofficial heavyweight "white champion," collapsed and died after being struck by his opponent in the first round of a boxing match in Calgary, Alberta, on May 24.  He was considered one of the best fighters in the world, and of all of the "great white hopes" the most likely to defeat Jack Johnson, the reigning heavyweight champion.  Johnson, who had previously held the (also unofficial) title of  "colored heavyweight champion," defeated champion Tommy Burns in 1908 to win the official title.  He has since defended his title successfully against a succession of "great white hopes," including retired champion Jim Jeffries in 1910. Racial animosity has fed the intense public interest in finding a successful white contender to reclaim the title.

Henry M. Flagler

Henry M. Flagler died on May 20.  Along with John D. and William Rockefeller, he was one of the founders of the Standard Oil Company.  He later moved to Florida, where he built luxury hotels, invested heavily in Florida real estate and constructed the Florida East Coast Railway from Jacksonville to Key West.

May 1913 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, June and July 1913
New York Times, May 1913

Books and Articles:
Edwin G. Burrows & Mike Wallace, Gotham, A History of New York City to 1898
Miranda Carter, George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
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
Louis W. Koenig, Bryan: A Political Biography of William Jennings Bryan
John A. Kouwenhoven, The Columbia Historical Portrait of New York City: An Essay in Graphic History
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
James D. McCabe, Jr., Lights and Shadows of New York Life, or Sights and Sensations of the Great City
David McCullough, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914
Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt
Patricia O'Toole, When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House
Walter Stahr, Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram