Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 1914

It's May 1914.  In the United States, former President Roosevelt returns from a dangerous voyage of exploration in the Brazilian jungle and Treasury Secretary McAdoo takes time off from setting up the Federal Reserve System to marry the president's daughter.  Former New York Police Lieutenant Charles Becker is convicted, again, for the murder of Herman Rosenthal.  Mediation to settle the dispute between the United States and Mexico gets under way in Canada, as the Mexican Constitutionalists capture Saltillo and the American occupation of Veracruz continues.  Abroad, Irish home rule comes a step closer to reality, just in time to be derailed by the outbreak of war.  Elections in France will probably lead to another change of government, but the French are thinking only about the upcoming murder trial of Mme. Caillaux.  As the month comes to an end, the international crises that have bedeviled European politics over the last few years, from Morocco to Libya to the Balkans, seem to be fading into the past; but the assassination that will trigger the Great War is less than a month away.


Roosevelt aboard the Aidan, arriving in New York

Last October, former President Theodore Roosevelt left New York on an extended voyage to South America.  After addressing welcoming crowds and legislative assemblies in Brazil, Argentina and Chile, he returned through Argentina to Paraguay, where he embarked on an expedition to map the previously unexplored Rio da Duvida (the "River of Doubt").  He and his companions, including his son Kermit, embarked on their journey of exploration on December 12, traveled up the Paraguay River as far as possible, then overland through the Brazilian Highlands to the headwaters of the River of Doubt.  They began their descent of the river on February 27 and reached its confluence with the Aripuana, a tributary of the Amazon, on April 26.  At this point Roosevelt was much the worse for wear from the hardships of his journey, and had to be carried on a stretcher to the riverboat that took him to the mouth of the Amazon.  There he boarded the steamship Aidan and, after a stop in Barbados, arrived in New York Harbor on May 19.  Roosevelt appeared much improved after his sea voyage home, though he was somewhat gaunt and walking with the aid of a cane (which he called his "big stick").

 Northern Liberty Market

Some skeptics, including the president of the Royal Geographic Society in London, have expressed skepticism about Roosevelt's report of his expedition's accomplishments.  To answer the doubters, Roosevelt traveled to Washington, D.C. on May 26 to address a meeting of the National Geographic Society.  He had a full day in Washington.  His train from New York arrived at Washington's new Union Station at 3:00 P.M.  Roosevelt then called on President Wilson at the White House, visited the new National Museum at the Smithsonian Institution (where he admired trophies from his big game hunting trip to Africa five years ago), attended a reception for the Diplomatic Corps at the home of Senator Lodge, was guest of honor at a dinner attended by thirty-four people, and received newspapermen at the New Willard Hotel.  The Geographic Society meeting, which began at 8:30 P.M., was held in Convention Hall.  The only space in the District of Columbia large enough to accommodate the invited guests, it occupies the entire upper level of the Northern Liberty Market building at 5th and K Streets Northwest.  The heat wave gripping Washington, combined with the capacity crowd, poor ventilation and the pervasive odor of overripe food emanating from the market below, made for an uncomfortable experience for the attendees, further aggravated by the difficulty of hearing Roosevelt's voice in the cavernous room.  His presentation, however, was well received, and put the doubts largely to rest.  He emphasized that he had not "discovered" the river, claiming only that he had descended it and "put it on the map."  After his speech, Roosevelt went to Progressive Party headquarters, where he conferred with the party's members of Congress for over an hour.  He left for New York on the overnight sleeper a little after midnight.

A few days later Roosevelt was traveling again, this time aboard the RMS Olympic on his way to Europe.  Next month he will attend the wedding of his son Kermit to Belle Willard, daughter of the American ambassador to Spain.

The White House Flower Girls

Another presidential wedding, this one in the White House, took place on May 7.  Eleanor Wilson, the president's youngest daughter, was married to Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo.  It was a quiet affair in comparison to last year's wedding of the bride's sister Jessie to Francis B. Sayre, which was in the East Room with over 500 guests in attendance.  This one was held in the smaller Blue Room, with fewer than 100 guests.  The iron gates on Pennsylvania Avenue were closed and guarded by policemen for the occasion, and only invited guests were admitted to the White House grounds.  Mrs. Wilson, showing no sign of her recent illness, received the guests as they entered the Blue Room.  Miss Sallie McAdoo, the youngest of the bridegroom's three daughters, led the bridal procession, followed by the bride's sisters.  The bride was preceded by a second flower girl, the Secretary of the Interior's daughter Miss Nancy Lane.

ABC mediation in session at Niagara Falls; Americans on the left, Mexicans on the right, mediators at the head of the table.

The Mexican crisis that began last month with the arrest of American sailors in Tampico, and continued with the United States Navy's interception of a German shipment of arms to Veracruz, led at the end of April to an agreement to submit the issues to the "ABC" powers, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.  Mediation sessions began on May 20 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and resulted in a proposed settlement that was submitted to the parties on May 27.  Among other things, it calls for General Huerta to step down as interim president of Mexico and to be replaced by a temporary government of five cabinet members.  Until agreement is reached, the American military will continue to occupy Veracruz.

The Ypiranga in Veracruz

As the mediation proceeds, the Constitutionalists led by Venustiano Carranza are continuing to make gains against the Huerta regime.  Constitutionalist forces commanded by Francisco "Pancho" Villa captured and occupied Saltillo on May 21, and on May 31 Carranza assumed the title of provisional president and began the establishment of a government at Saltillo.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has released the German merchant ship Ypiranga, which attempted to deliver arms to the Huerta regime at Veracruz last month, an attempt that led to the vessel's detention and eventually to the occupation of Veracruz by American forces.  After its release, the Ypiranga proceeded to nearby Puerto Mexico, where on May 27 it delivered the arms to Huerta's forces without interference.

Rosenthal, Becker, and the Hotel Metropole

Former New York City Police Lieutenant Charles Becker was convicted in October 1912 of first degree murder in the killing earlier that year of Herman Rosenthal, who was cooperating with District Attorney Charles Whitman in an investigation of graft and corruption in the New York Police Department.  The three gunmen who carried out the murder on the sidewalk in front of the Hotel Metropole were executed last month, but the Court of Appeals vacated Becker's conviction on the ground of bias and trial errors by the trial judge, Justice John Goff.  Not to be denied, Whitman vowed immediately after the Court of Appeals ruling to try Becker again.  The retrial took place this month before Justice Samuel Seabury.  On May 22 Becker was again found guilty of murder in the first degree.

SS Vaterland

The two largest passenger ships in the world had their maiden voyages this month, both sailing to New York from their home ports in Europe.  The Hamburg-America liner Vaterland sailed from Cuxhaven on May 14, arriving in New York May 21.  With a displacement of over 54,000 tons, it is the largest ocean liner afloat.  Because of its size, a strong ebb tide, and contrary winds on the Hudson River, it took the giant vessel five hours to maneuver from Quarantine to its dock at Hoboken.  Only slightly smaller is the new Cunard liner Aquitania, which departed Liverpool on May 30.  Its displacement of approximately 49,000 tons makes it larger than either of its sister ships, the Lusitania and the Mauretania.

RMS Empress of Ireland

The day before the Aquitania left Liverpool, a passenger liner bound for Liverpool met a tragic fate in the lower St. Lawrence River.  The Canadian Pacific liner RMS Empress of Ireland, under way from Quebec in heavy early morning fog, was struck amidships by the Norwegian collier Storstad.  The liner sank within fifteen minutes, killing 1024 passengers and crew.  452 were rescued.

 General Sickles with His Staff After the Battle of Gettysburg . . .

. . . and in 1902

Major General Daniel Sickles died on May 3 in his home at 23 Fifth Avenue in New York City.  He had a remarkably eventful life.  Active in Democratic Party politics in the years before the Civil War, he entered the state legislature in 1847, where he was instrumental in the creation of New York City's Central Park.  He served in the United States Congress from 1857 to 1861.  In 1859, on Lafayette Square across the street from the White House, he shot and killed his wife's lover, Philip Barton Key, the District Attorney for the District of Columbia and the son of Francis Scott Key, author of "The Star-Spangled Banner."  In the subsequent trial, Sickles pled temporary insanity and was found not guilty.  He achieved additional fame in the Civil War when he commanded a corps at the Battle of Gettysburg.  On the second day of the battle, in violation of orders, he advanced his corps into the Peach Orchard, a move that endangered his troops but may have helped save the day for the Union Army.  After the battle, in which he lost a leg, he was promoted to major general and awarded the Medal of Honor.  He served as United States Minister to Spain from 1869 to 1874, and again in Congress from 1893 to 1895.

Jacob Riis

Another notable death this month was that of Jacob Riis, the well-known social worker and author, who died on May 26.  He pioneered the use of photographs to accompany his social commentary.  His 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives, documented the lives of tenement dwellers in New York City:

"Bandit's Roost" from How the Other Half Lives


James Couzens, in the Front Seat with Henry Ford

James Couzens, Treasurer of the Ford Motor Company, announced in a statement on May 16 that the company would lay off some 6,000 men due to the onset of the annual slack season of the automobile business.  He said "we do not intend to work any hardship if it can be avoided.  Single men will be the first to go.  Married men who measure up to the standard of efficiency demanded at this time will be held as long as possible."  This development is due in part to the company's institution earlier this year of a five dollar daily minimum wage and institution of three shifts for round-the-clock production on the assembly line, an innovation that has resulted in the market demand for automobiles being satisfied several weeks earlier than in previous years.

Irish Party Leader John Redmond

The Irish Home Rule bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons on May 25.  The vote was 351 to 274.  The Bill will now go to the House of Lords, where it is expected to be defeated, as it has been in its two prior trips to the Upper House of Parliament:  This time, however, it will receive the royal assent and become law with or without the Lords' concurrence.  Both Belfast and Dublin received the news quietly; celebratory fireworks and bands greeted the news in Limerick.  To counter the threat of violence, armed police have been moved to the North, and railway authorities have been instructed to have troop trains ready in case they are needed.  John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Party, issued a statement hailing passage of the bill as an event that "marks the death, after an inglorious history of 114 years, of the Union of Pitt and Castlereagh," referring to the abolition of the Irish Parliament in 1800, an event Redmond called "the cause of Ireland's poverty, misery, depopulation, and demoralization, the cause of famine, insurrection, and bloodshed, and of the disloyalty of the Irish people throughout the whole world."  He says "there are only two eventualities ... which could possibly prevent the Home Rule bill from becoming a statute in a few weeks' time.  The first is that the present session of Parliament should come to an abrupt end before one month from this date -- an utterly unthinkable proposition -- and the other is that the House of Commons should suddenly go mad and pass a resolution that the bill should not be presented for the royal assent."  He said "the assembling of an Irish Parliament is as certain as the rising of tomorrow's sun," and expressed the hope that the people of Ulster will "abandon unreasonable demands" and accept "the indisputable facts of home rule and a home rule Parliament."

Colonel House

"Colonel" Edward M. House does not hold any official position in the United States government, having declined President Wilson's offer of a cabinet office at the beginning of his administration.  (Nor is he a real colonel: the title is an honorary one conferred by Governor Jim Hogg of Texas).  As an informal adviser, however, he is a close and influential confidant of the President, and he shares Wilson's concern about the growing tensions between Germany and Great Britain.  At the President's request, he sailed with his wife to Europe this month on the German liner Imperator, hoping to meet with the Kaiser while in Germany.   He arrived on May 23 and dined that evening with Admiral Tirpitz and other German dignitaries. Ambassador James Gerard has been trying to arrange a private meeting between House and the Kaiser, but this has been resisted by the Kaiser's advisers, who insist that a representative of the German Foreign Office be present at all such meetings.  After some negotiations, House and Gerard have been invited to join the Kaiser at Potsdam on June 1 during an annual military festival called Schrippenfest, and it has been agreed that while he is there House will be allowed to have a conversation with the Kaiser out of earshot but within view of Gerard and Undersecretary Arthur Zimmermann of the German Foreign Office.

Premier Gaston Doumergue . . .

. . . and Socialist Leader Jean Jaures

French elections on April 26 and May 10 resulted in big gains for the Socialists, led by Jean Jaures, and other parties of the radical bloc, which now accounts for over 400 of the 600 members of the Chamber of Deputies.  Minister of Finance and former Premier Joseph Caillaux, who resigned his seat in March when his wife shot and killed the editor of Le Figaro, was reelected.  The present government, headed by Premier Gaston Doumergue, is the forty-eighth in the forty-three years of the Third Republic, and it is likely to be replaced again as a result of the elections.  President Poincare is looking for candidates to form a new government.


The Perils of Pauline

The new entertainment medium of motion pictures is enjoying increasing popularity in the United States.  The latest format is the serial, in which the same actors playing the same roles are used in successive episodes, drawing audiences to theaters from week to week to follow their favorite characters' adventures.   One of the most popular is The Perils of Pauline, starring Pearl White, the first episode of which was released in March.  The series follows Pauline and her stepbrother Harry, who is in love with her and pursues her romantically into a variety of dangerous situations from which he is then obliged to rescue her.  The serial’s fifth episode was released May 18.  In it, a Signor Baskinelli lures Pauline into Chinatown, where she finds herself imprisoned in a joss house.  Harry discovers her there and, in the episode's climactic scene, frees her after a heroic struggle:

Pauline in Peril; Harry to the Rescue

May 1914 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, June and July 1914
New York Times, May 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
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
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Margaret MacMillan, The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914
Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War
Candice Millard, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey
Kenneth Rose, King George V
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram