Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December 1913

In December 1913 the dispatch of a German general to Constantinople sets off alarm bells in Russia. The German chancellor loses a vote of confidence but carries on regardless. President Woodrow Wilson delivers his first State of the Union address, and the Congress adopts legislation establishing the Federal Reserve. A dinner in Washington tests Wilson's sense of humor. America's only trouble spot is Mexico, where the policy is "watchful waiting." Panama Canal tolls continue to be an irritant in U.S.-British relations. Elihu Root wins the Nobel Peace Prize, and his party tries to repair the split that cost it the last election. The First Lord of the Admiralty goes flying, and daredevil aviators continue to outdo each other in the air. The Duke of Bedford sells a big chunk of London real estate. Charlie Chaplin moves from the music hall to motion pictures. Tensions are rising in Ireland. Sir Ernest Shackleton announces an ambitious Antarctic expedition. Henry Ford starts up his new assembly line. Another eventful month, as the last year of peace comes to an end.


German General Otto Liman von Sanders

Recent years have seen a rapid weakening of the Ottoman Empire, the "sick man of Europe."  In a very short time it has lost control over vast expanses of territory in North Africa and the Balkans.  Now the focus has turned to the straits that connect the Mediterranean to the Black Sea; and this time two of the great powers of Europe, Germany and Russia, are directly involved.  Russia depends on free access through the straits for a significant amount of its trade.  Diplomatic and military relations between Germany and Turkey are close, and have become closer since the rise of the Young Turks in 1908.  German interests are behind the ongoing construction of a railroad, planned eventually to extend from Berlin through Constantinople to Baghdad.  Now German General Otto Liman von Sanders has been sent to Constantinople to assume an "advisory" role in the organization and command of the Turkish army.  Because Constantinople dominates the straits, its control by Germany is a matter of grave concern in St. Petersburg.  The Russian military has been put on alert, and speeches in the Duma have called for aggressive action to seize the straits before Germany does.

A Cartoon Attacking German Behavior in Zabern

The Zabern incident began when a German lieutenant used insulting language in addressing his troops about appropriate behavior toward the French population of Alsace, leading to clashes between the local citizens and German troops.  The incident created a political firestorm in Germany.  In the Reichstag debate, which began on December 3, Socialist members criticized the army's behavior and the government's response, while Prussian Minister of War Erich von Falkenhayn defended the army and denounced press criticism as unpatriotic.  Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, in an attempt to defuse the issue, announced that the lieutenant's regiment would be withdrawn from Alsace and the lieutenant disciplined.  In the ensuing vote, in which the Socialists were joined by the Center Party and others, the government went down to defeat 293 to 54.  It was an embarrassing loss for Bethmann-Hollweg.  He refused to resign, however, saying he was responsible only to the Kaiser, and the other parties in the Reichstag refused to join the Socialists in carrying the fight to the budget vote.

President Wilson Addressing Congress on December 2

In the United States, Congress has been in continuous session since it was called it into special session by the president in April.  In accordance with the constitutional requirement that Congress convene on the first Monday of December, the special session ended and the regular session began on December 1.  The next day, President Wilson appeared in person before Congress to comply with the additional command that the president "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union."  This is the first time in over a hundred years that the president has performed this duty in person, but it is no surprise that President Wilson chose to do so this year, since he has addressed Congress in person several times since his inauguration in March.  This comports with his long-expressed view that the president should take a more active role in the legislative process.

Secretaries Houston and McAdoo in New York to Conduct Inquiries Regarding Federal Reserve District Boundaries

The President urged Congress, as he had done in prior messages, to enact legislation reforming the currency and banking system.  As he spoke, the House of Representatives had passed a currency bill which was pending in the Senate.  By the end of the month, in an unusual display of speed for such a fundamental reform, the legislation had been passed by both houses and signed into law by the president.  Since President Andrew Jackson vetoed legislation to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States in 1836, attempts to create a central bank of the kind that exists in many countries have met with failure, defeated by fear of undue concentration of financial power.  However, the need to have some such resource to stabilize the currency and provide reserve credit when and where needed was widely acknowledged.  The new law's solution is to have, instead of a single central bank, a number of "Federal Reserve Banks" in major cities throughout the country, financed and operating separately but under the control of a Federal Reserve Board in Washington.  The law stipulates that there are to be no less than eight nor more than twelve such banks.  It does not specify their locations, but it seems generally agreed that they will include New York, Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, and San Francisco.  An organizing committee consisting of Secretary of the Treasury McAdoo, Secretary of Agriculture Houston, and the Comptroller of the Currency (not yet named) will take testimony and survey the country to determine the bank locations and district boundaries.

The President also asked Congress to consider strengthening the laws dealing with "trusts".  The Sherman Act is imprecise, simply prohibiting combinations "in restraint of trade," and in the recent Standard Oil decision the Supreme Court applied a "rule of reason," holding that only "unreasonable" restraints violate the Act but doing little to give notice to the business community of prohibited activity.  President Wilson wants Congress to leave the Sherman Act intact but adopt new legislation to clarify it and "facilitate its administration."

 General Huerta's "Reelection" as Seen by Hearst Cartoonist T. E. Powers

In foreign affairs, the President noted with gratitude that the country "is at peace with all the world, and many happy manifestations multiply about us of a growing cordiality and sense of community of interest among the nations, foreshadowing an age of settled peace and good will."  He urged prompt ratification of the arbitration treaties pending before the Senate, and pointed with pride to Secretary Bryan's negotiation of treaties providing for a "cooling off" period when disagreements arise between nations.  He noted that "there is but one cloud upon our horizon. That has shown itself to the south of us, and hangs over Mexico."  President Wilson continues to insist that Victoriano Huerta's seizure of power, ratified by a puppet Mexican Congress, is illegitimate.  He told the Congress that "there can be no certain prospect of peace in America until General Huerta has surrendered his usurped authority."  Noting that Huerta has become "completely isolated" and that his "collapse is not far away," Wilson added that he believes there is no need for the United States to alter its policy of "watchful waiting."

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels

In his first annual report as Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels has proposed a shipbuilding program for next year.  He recommends construction of two dreadnoughts, eight destroyers and three submarines, which he says will provide "an adequate and well-proportioned navy."  His program is substantially less ambitious than that of the Navy General Board, headed by Admiral Dewey, which recommends four dreadnoughts, sixteen destroyers and eight submarines.  Daniels also proposes that the government produce and refine its own oil to guarantee a supply of fuel for its ships, most of which in the future will be oil-burning.  Criticizing the prices charged by private corporations, he also recommended that the government make its own armor, guns and ammunition.  Commenting on the proposal of British First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill for a "naval holiday," Daniels says "It is not a vacation we need, but a permanent policy to guard against extravagant and needless expansions."  He recommends inviting representatives of all nations to a conference to discuss "a plan for lessening the cost of preparation for war."

Secretary of War Garrison

Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison submitted his first annual report this month.  He praised the Army and Navy as the "bulwark of defense" of a "peaceful and unmilitary people, engrossed in the settlement and upbuilding of our vast territory and in the development of the wonderful resources with which it abounds."  The maximum strength of the Army is fixed by law at 100,000 men, and its total present strength is several thousand less than that.  Among its most impressive recent achievements are those of the Army Medical Service, which include the virtual eradication of typhoid fever, improvements in sanitation in tropical regions, and progress in the treatment of infection.

Taft Astride a Carabao

The Military Order of the Carabao was founded by American military officers during the Philippine Insurrection, the army's most recent military campaign.  It was intended as a lampoon of their fellow officers who had formed the Military Order of the Dragon during the Boxer Rebellion.  Named after a Philippine water buffalo, the Carabao Society sponsors annual dinners at which songs and speeches poke fun at senior figures in the government and military.  President Wilson was made an honorary member, as were Presidents Roosevelt and Taft (Taft was governor-general of the Philippines from 1901 to 1903, and was the Society's guest of honor at the 1911 dinner).  The most recent dinner was held December 11 in Washington.  Among the dignitaries present were several cabinet officers including Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (whose speech discussing Philippine independence received polite but tepid applause), four Supreme Court Justices and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.  As at prior dinners, the members joined in their rollicking anthem, sung to the tune of "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp the Boys Are Marching": "Damn, Damn, Damn the Insurrectos" (referring to the rebels in the Insurrection).  To the general hilarity of those present, a "Peace Fleet" then sailed into the banquet room consisting of the ships "Friendship," "Fellowship" and "Piffle," designed to ridicule Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan's peace initiatives.  "Piffle's" conning tower was labeled "Lecture Platform," her guns were labeled "Grape Juice" and "Pop," and her funnel bore the legend "Hot Air."  Uncle Sam stood on the bridge shouting "Peace on Earth" through a megaphone.  When he learned of the Society's antics, President Wilson was not amused.  He promptly resigned his honorary membership and ordered Secretary of War Lindley Garrison to conduct an investigation, which by month's end had resulted in reprimands of several senior officers.

The President's Winter Vacation Home in Pass Christian

The president has been suffering this month from an attack of grippe.  He had recovered enough by December 18 to take an automobile ride and plant a tree on the White House lawn.  His physician Doctor Grayson recommended a rest, so he and Mrs. Wilson traveled with the doctor and the president's cousin Helen Bones to Pass Christian, Mississippi, a location recommended by Mississippi Senator John Sharp Williams, where they are spending the Christmas holidays in the agreeable climate of the gulf coast.

Senator Root

On December 10, it was announced that Senator Elihu Root is the recipient of the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize. Senator Root was cited for his work on the pacification of Cuba and the Philippines as well as his handling of America's dispute with Japan over California's racial laws.  More generally, Mr. Root has been a supporter of international arbitration and a strong and prominent advocate in favor of a world court.  He was appointed Secretary of War by President McKinley in 1899 and continued in that position under President Roosevelt until 1904.  He was appointed Secretary of State in 1905.  In 1909, as his tenure as Secretary of State ended, the New York legislature named him to the United States Senate to succeed the retiring Senator Thomas C. Platt.  The award of the 1912 Prize was delayed a year, and was made this month simultaneously with the award of the 1913 Prize, which went to the Belgian Henri La Fontaine, President of the International Peace Bureau, who was instrumental in organizing the Hague Peace Conferences in 1899 and 1907.

Senator Root is a leading figure in the Republican Party, which is struggling to overcome the split that preceded its defeat in last year's election.  Root presided at a conference of the leaders of the New York Republican Party that began December 5 at the Waldorf Astoria.  Over the opposition of the state chairman, William Barnes, the delegates adopted resolutions favoring a number of progressive reforms.  Barnes retained his position as state chairman, representing New York at a meeting of the Republican National Committee at the New Willard Hotel in Washington on December 16.

One of the reforms adopted by the National Committee was to reduce the representation of the southern states at Republican national conventions.  Delegates to previous Republican conventions have been apportioned on the basis of population, giving southern states influence within the party far out of proportion to their support for Republican candidates.  The political dominance of the Democratic Party in those states has been solidified by state laws adopted in the last twenty-five years restricting the ability of Negroes, the most likely Republican voters, to register and vote.  (For more on this subject, see the April and June 1912 and August 1913 installments of this blog).  Republican efforts to enforce Negro voting rights have failed, and it now appears there is little the party can do to overcome its permanent minority status in the states of the former Confederacy.  By allocating convention delegates on the basis of Republican votes rather than population, the party hopes at least to bring those states' influence within the party more in line with their contribution to the party's electoral prospects.  Ironically, the effect of this reform may be to diminish even further the political power of Southern Negroes.  The only Negro delegates to be found at either party's national conventions are in the "black and tan" delegations sent by Southern states to Republican conventions.  Their numbers will be lessened by the new rule.

Andrew Bonar Law

In Great Britain, the Conservative (Unionist) Party continues to walk a fine line between vigorous political advocacy and open rebellion.  The Home Rule Bill is on schedule to become law next year over the opposition of Conservatives in both houses of Parliament.  Resistance to home rule among Irish Protestants, who will become a minority in a largely Catholic Ireland, is at a fever pitch, and Conservative politicians such as Sir Edward Carson are exploiting it to the fullest.  Conservative Party leader Andrew Bonar Law has publicly appealed to the British Army not to enforce Home Rule in northern Ireland, where most of the Protestants live.

Churchill with the Royal Flying Corps

British First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill is known to have a great interest in the military potential of aviation.  He has made fourteen flights, three in dirigibles and eleven in aeroplanes.  On December 1, flying in a dual-control aeroplane piloted by Captain Wildman Lushington, the First Lord took the controls at an altitude of about five hundred feet and controlled the machine for most of the hour-long flight, after which Captain Lushington took the controls for the landing.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

The polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton has announced plans to lead an expedition to the South Pole, which as envisioned will be the most ambitious polar journey ever attempted.  He plans to cross the Antarctic continent from sea to sea, beginning at the Weddell Sea near the tip of South America, crossing via the South Pole to the Ross Sea, and returning via New Zealand.  In the hope of enlisting broad support from the whole British Empire, he has named his venture the "Imperial Transantarctic Expedition."

The Duke of Bedford Leaves Covent Garden

In other news from England, it has been reported that the Duke of Bedford has sold his 19-acre Covent Garden estate to the Hon. Harry Mallaby-Deeley, a successful businessman who entered Parliament in 1910 as the Unionist member for Harrow.  The property includes the Covent Garden Opera House, Drury Lane Theatre, the Aldwych Theatre, the Strand Theatre, the Bow Street Police Court, the National Sporting Club and the Covent Garden Market.  The amount of the purchase price has not been disclosed, but estimates range as high as fifty million dollars.  Mr. Mallaby-Deeley says he has no plans to make any changes in the use of the property.

Ambassador Bryce

It appears that Germany's unwillingness to participate in the Panama Pacific Exposition, scheduled for 1915 in San Francisco to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, may have less to do with that nation's own interests than with a recent understanding reached with Great Britain.  Last month it appeared that the Reichstag would approve funds for a German building on the grounds of the Panama Exposition, but the proposal has been denied at the highest levels.  The Kaiser has said that he would like to participate, and sees no financial or other obstacle to doing so, but that Germany has agreed through diplomatic channels with Great Britain that neither nation would participate.  This has given rise to concern that those nations may be negotiating a "British-German Entente," including actions to block American trade and influence in Latin America.  It is generally acknowledged that Great Britain's reluctance to participate in the Exposition is related in large part to its dispute with the United States over Panama Canal tolls.  Before leaving the United States, former British Ambassador James Bryce was told by President Wilson that he did not agree with the position of Congress and the Taft administration on the toll issue, and would do what he could to have it reconsidered.

 Lincoln Beachey

French aviator Maurice Guillaux, who set a one-day distance record in August, was recently suspended from membership by the French Aero Club.  As if in defiance of the suspension, he climbed into his monoplane on December 25 and "looped the loop" above Paris four times.  He performed the feat twice over the Grand Palace, where the annual Paris Aero Salon was coming to an end, once over the Bourse, and once again over the main boulevards.  On the same day in San Francisco, American aviator Lincoln Beachey set a world record by performing five "loop the loops" over the city, including a double loop at an altitude of 300 feet.  Afterward he landed his machine on a narrow street on the grounds of the Panama Pacific Exposition.

The Ford Assembly Line in Dearborn

On December 1, the Ford Motor Company began operation of an assembly line at its plant in Dearborn, Michigan.  By moving automobiles under construction along a constantly moving conveyor and assigning workers to specific tasks to be repeated from one automobile to the next, the assembly line process is designed to speed up production and increase the efficiency of the work force.  The Ford assembly line will manufacture the Model T automobile.

Charles Chaplin

Charles Chaplin is a popular English music hall performer.  At the end of November he completed his American tour and moved to California, where he joined Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios.  At Keystone he will appear in motion picture films, joining other popular Keystone comedians Ford Sterling, Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle, and Mabel Normand.

December 1913 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, January and February 1914
New York Times, December 1913

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill: Young Statesman 1907-1914
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
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
Charles Emmerson, 1913: The World Before the Great War
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism
Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War
David McCullough, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914
Candice Millard, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey
Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt
Michael Perman, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South 1888-1908
Richard B. Sherman, The Republican Party and Black America From McKinley to Hoover, 1896-1933
John Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project, Public Papers of the President, State of the Union Addresses and Messages, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/sou.php