Monday, March 31, 2014

March 1914

It's the end of March 1914, and the Great War is a month closer (though of course nobody knows it). Russia's military build-up is causing concern among its neighbors. Austria's minister-president sends the Reichsrat home, leaving only himself and King/Emperor Franz Joseph in charge of the government in that half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Great Britain, the army threatens to refuse to enforce Home Rule in northern Ireland; the ensuing crisis results in the resignation of the Secretary of State for War and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. In France, the wife of a cabinet minister and former prime minister puts an end to embarrassing revelations about her relationship with her husband by shooting and killing the editor of the offending newspaper. In the United States, President Wilson urges Congress to repeal the free tolls provision of the Panama Canal Act, to the fury of many in Congress including the father of future Senator Knowland. Negotiations with the Huerta regime in Mexico resume. The president announces another daughter's engagement. High-profile murder trials are in the news in New York and Georgia. Woman suffrage campaigns in America and Great Britain continue with mixed results. Igor Sikorsky and Guglielmo Marconi are responsible for impressive advances in transportation and communication respectively, and the world mourns the death of George Westinghouse, the man responsible for many of the scientific advances of previous decades.


Russia Looks West
On March 12, the Russian government submitted "extraordinary" military estimates to the Duma in the amount of $60,000,000.  This represents a 30 percent increase over the extraordinary estimates of 1913, and is in addition to the $250,000,000 in ordinary army appropriations already approved.  The estimates have given added force to concerns in Germany, Austria, Sweden and elsewhere that Russia is planning a war of aggression.  The Neue Freie Presse, Austria's semi-official newspaper, calls Russia's million-man army "an unheard of thing in modern history."  Also raising concern among Russia's neighbors is the recent approval of a French loan for the construction of railways designed to speed concentration of military forces on Russia's European and Caucasus frontiers.  It is reported in Paris that the French government consented to the loan only with the understanding that the Russian government would take a firmer line against Germany.

Karl von Sturgkh

In the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy, each kingdom has its own parliament.  On March 16, frustrated by the failure of the Czech and German factions to work together, Austrian Minister-President Karl von Sturgkh prorogued the Reichsrat, the Austrian parliament, indefinitely.  Sturgkh and the king/emperor Franz Joseph will rule Austria by decree until further notice.

Mme. Caillaux and Gaston Calmette

On the evening of March 16, Henriette Caillaux, the wife of Joseph Caillaux, France's Minister of Finance and former Premier, went to the office of Gaston Calmette, the editor of Le Figaro, and asked to see him.  Le Figaro had been conducting a vigorous campaign against Caillaux, and had recently published a letter, apparently written by Caillaux to Henriette at a time when both were married to others, that suggested a close relationship.  When she was admitted to Calmette's office, Mme. Caillaux drew a pistol from her muffler and fired five shots.  Four of them struck Calmette, who died from his wounds.  M. Caillaux has resigned from the cabinet, and his wife is in custody.  At a hearing on March 24, she told the magistrate she knew of no other way to prevent the further publication of her private letters.

The Earl of Leitrim Reviewing a Contingent of Ulster Volunteers

The Irish home rule controversy in Great Britain approached crisis levels this month.  The introduction and apparently inevitable passage of the government's Home Rule bill, which this time will become law with or without the approval of the House of Lords, is fiercely opposed by Ulster Protestants and their Unionist supporters, who talk of civil war.  An armed militia, the Ulster Volunteers, appears ready to resist by force any attempt to subject the northern counties of Ireland to rule by a Dublin parliament.  King George V has expressed to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith the opinion that, while the people of Great Britain have expressed their approval of home rule in recent elections, they cannot be said to have approved the use of the British military to coerce the people of Ulster.  The bill introduced on March 9 represents an attempt at compromise.  It would allow each Ulster county to hold a plebiscite to exclude the county from home rule for a period of six years, during which time the people of Great Britain will have two additional opportunities to express their opinion in general elections.  This proposal has been rejected by the Unionists, Sir Edward Carson calling it a "sentence of death with a stay of execution for six years."  In a speech at Bradford on March 14, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill delivered a strong rebuttal, arguing that the Unionists, who claim to oppose coercion of the one-fifth of Ireland opposed to home rule, are in reality insisting on coercion of the other four-fifths.  He charged that the Unionists, by advocating armed resistance to an act of Parliament, "denounce all violence except their own.  They uphold all law except the law they choose to break."

General Sir Arthur Paget

General Sir Arthur Paget, the commander of British troops in Ireland, has been instructed to safeguard depots of arms and ammunition in Ulster, but has warned the government that moving troops from their base at the Curragh in County Kildare to northern Ireland would be provocative.  On March 18 he met in Westminster with Churchill, Secretary of State for War J.E.B. Seely, and General Sir John French, Chief of the Imperial General Staff.  Upon Paget's return to the Curragh, fifty-eight cavalry officers led by Brigadier General Hubert Gough declared their intention to resign from the army rather than participate in coercion of their fellow Britishers in Ulster.  Encouraged by French, Seely attempted to head off the resignations by giving written assurances that British troops would not be used in an attempt to coerce Ulster, assurances that Asquith repudiated when he learned of them.  By month's end, Seely and French had resigned their positions and Asquith had taken over the duties of Secretary of State for War.

Jose Lopez Portillo y Rojas

The head of the de facto government of Mexico, Victoriano Huerta, agreed this month to resume negotiations with John Lind, President Wilson's personal emissary, who has been at Veracruz since Huerta broke off talks last August.  On March 19 Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Lopez Portillo y Rojas met with Lind at the Veracruz home of a mutual friend.  Meanwhile, military action by the "Constitutionalists" against the Huerta government continued, with rebels under the command of Francisco "Pancho" Villa battling federal army forces at Torreon.

Giving In On the Tolls Issue

The Panama Canal tolls dispute between Great Britain and the United States appears close to resolution. Retracing a path he has trod frequently in the past year, President Wilson went to Capitol Hill on March 5 and asked a joint session of Congress to repeal the provision of the Panama Canal Act that provides free passage for American ships traveling between American ports.  Great Britain has objected to that provision, arguing that it violates the 1901 Hay-Pauncefote Treaty.  The president told Congress that, because the American position on the tolls issue had been questioned and misunderstood by other nations, "we ought to reverse our action without raising the question whether we were right or wrong."  He added a personal appeal, saying "I ask this of you in support of the foreign policy of the Administration.  I shall not know how to deal with other matters of even greater delicacy and nearer consequence if you do not grant it to me in ungrudging measure."  On March 31 the repeal bill passed the House by a vote of 247 to 162, but not without bitter opposition from members of both parties.  Speaker Champ Clark had previously announced his opposition, and Representative Joseph R. Knowland of California, the senior Republican member of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, took the floor to accuse the president of trying to get the United States to "surrender under foreign pressure" for the first time in its history.  The vote in the Senate is expected to be close.

Herman Rosenthal

In October 1912 New York Police Lieutenant Charles Becker was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death for conspiring to kill Herman Rosenthal, a small time hoodlum who was exposing Police Department corruption in interviews with a reporter for the New York World.  The World articles led to a meeting between Rosenthal and District Attorney Charles Whitman on July 15, 1912.  When Rosenthal left the meeting, he went to the Hotel Metropole on 43rd Street where he was gunned down on the sidewalk (see the August and October 1912 installments of this blog).  Last month the New York Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) affirmed the convictions of the gunmen who fired the shots that killed Rosenthal, but set aside Becker's conviction on the ground that the trial judge was biased and had conducted the trial in a highly prejudicial manner.  District Attorney Whitman has announced that he will try Becker again on the same charges, and a new trial is scheduled to begin May 6.  The convicted trigger men -- Jacob "Whitey Lewis" Seidencoffer, Louis "Lefty Louie" Rosenberg, Francisco "Dago Frank" Cirofici, and Harry "Gyp the Blood" Horowitz -- are scheduled to go to the electric chair next month, but Governor Glynn is considering a request for commutation or stay of execution pending the outcome of the second Becker trial.

 Leo Frank and His Wife at His Trial Last Year
Another murder trial, this one in Georgia, has resulted in the conviction of Leo Frank, superintendent of the National Pencil Company's factory in Atlanta, for the rape and murder last April of a fourteen-year-old factory employee, Mary Phagan.  The trial was conducted in an atmosphere of intense public anger at the brutal crime, reinforced in the Frank case by resentment of outsiders (Frank had moved to Atlanta from New York) and antisemitism.  Crowds demanding Frank's conviction filled the courtroom and demonstrated loudly outside the courthouse every day.  Prior to the announcement of the verdict the trial judge expressed concern for the jurors' safety in the event of a not guilty verdict; at the prosecutor's request Frank was removed from the courtroom and sent back to his cell to protect him from the mob.  When the guilty verdict was announced it was greeted with cheers so loud and prolonged that the judge was unable to hear the polling of the jury.  Although many observers believe that Frank was unable to receive a fair trial under these circumstances, the Georgia Supreme Court has denied his request for a new trial.  His execution by hanging has been scheduled for April 17.  This month his lawyers filed another motion for a new trial, this one supported by new evidence supporting Frank's alibi and pointing to Jim Conley, a Negro factory employee who was the principal trial witness against Frank, as the likely murderer. 

 Mississippi Senators John Sharp Williams . . .

. . . and James K. Vardaman

On March 19 the United States Senate took up a proposal to approve a woman's suffrage amendment to the United States Constitution and submit it to the states for ratification.  The vote was 35 (14 Democrats and 21 Republicans) in favor and 34 (22 Democrats and 12 Republicans) opposed.  Because a two-thirds vote is necessary, the proposal failed.  Before the final vote, two amendments were proposed by Democrats from Mississippi.  The first, submitted by Senator James K. Vardaman, would have added language allowing states to deny the vote to Negroes, effectively repealing the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  Vardaman's proposal was defeated by a vote of 19 to 48.  The second, offered by Senator John Sharp Williams, would have extended the suffrage to white women only.  It was defeated by a vote of 21 to 44.  When the unamended suffrage proposal came to a vote, both Vardaman and Williams were among the 34 opposed.  Meanwhile, state by state efforts to extend the suffrage to women continued.  A suffrage bill was passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives on March 26, and similar measures went down to defeat in the Virginia House of Delegates on March 11 and in the Kentucky Senate on March 13.

The woman suffrage campaign also continues in Great Britain.  On March 9 police arrived in St. Andrew's Hall, Glasgow, to arrest suffragist leader Emmeline Pankhurst as she began a speech denouncing the government.  As the police approached the podium, they found that the flowers decorating the front of the stage concealed barbed wire.  Mrs. Pankhurst's supporters surrounded her and fought with the police, one of them firing blank shots from a revolver.  The police finally succeeded in dragging Mrs. Pankhurst from the hall and into a waiting taxicab, which took her to a police station.  Several policemen and suffragists sustained minor injuries in the melee, and one woman was taken to a hospital.

Eleanor Wilson

Miss Eleanor Wilson, 24, is the youngest of President Wilson's three daughters.  On March 13, the president announced her engagement to William G. McAdoo, the Secretary of the Treasury. This will be the second marriage for McAdoo, 50, whose first wife died in 1912.

Sikorsky's New Aeroplane

Another advance in the field of aviation was reported this month.  In Russia, Igor Sikorsky has designed and built an aeroplane that conducts regular flights over St. Petersburg with as many as sixteen people on board.  The machine has four engines, each generating 100 horsepower, and a wing area some five times that of ordinary biplanes.   The forward part of the fuselage contains cabins with electric lighting and large windows on the side and floor for observation and photography.

Marconi's Wireless Telephone

Advances in communication are also in the news.  Speaking in London on March 24, Guglielmo Marconi reported encouraging success with recent experiments in wireless telephony.  Extended conversations over distances up to 45 miles have been conducted in Italy, and Marconi says he hopes soon to carry on telephonic conversations between Ireland and London "if everything doesn't get smashed up over Ulster and prevent the experiment."   He predicted that with larger machines he will be able to talk by telephone across the Atlantic in the near future, perhaps as soon as six months from now.

George Westinghouse

George Westinghouse died on March 12 at the age of 67.  A Civil War veteran, he went on to become one of the leaders of American industry in the latter part of the nineteenth century.  He controlled thousands of patents, hundreds of which were for his own inventions, including the railroad air brake, the alternating current system of electricity generation, and systems enabling the use of natural gas for domestic and industrial fuel.  Other notable deaths this month included B.F. Keith, 68, owner of the vaudeville circuit that bears his name, who died March 26; and George W. Vanderbilt, 51, son of William H. Vanderbilt and grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who died March 6 following an appendectomy.  Mr. Vanderbilt is best known for Biltmore, the estate he built in North Carolina.

March 1914 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, April and May 1914
New York Times, March 1914

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Philip Blom, The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914
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
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
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
Kermit L. Hall ed., The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States
Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917
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
Margaret MacMillan, The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914
Kenneth Rose, King George V