Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June 1915

In June 1915, as the world observes the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and the 700th anniversary of the Magna Carta, it confronts a war of unprecedented destruction and geographic scope.  German submarine warfare threatens a rupture in relations with the United States.  A second note pressing the American case brings about the resignation of Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan.  His successor, Robert Lansing, is the son-in-law of a former secretary of state and the uncle of a future one, John Foster Dulles.  Freed from the constraints of office, Bryan addresses a peace rally in Madison Square Garden.  President Wilson's friend and adviser Colonel House returns from an extended trip to Europe, and in his report to the president predicts war with Germany.  Another British attack fails in Gallipoli.  Great Britain is feeling the financial and personal pain of waging war; she gains, then loses, one of her first war heroes.  The U.S.S. Arizona is launched in Brooklyn.  "The Class the Stars Fell On" graduates from West Point; its members will lead the American Army in another world war.  President Wilson honors the American flag, and is honored at a reunion of Confederate veterans.  Two notorious murder cases, one in Georgia and one in New York, move closer to final resolution. The governor of Georgia commutes Leo Frank's death sentence, but cannot protect either himself or Frank from angry mobs.  In New York, only the governor now stands between Charles Becker and the electric chair, and he is convinced of Becker's guilt.  Becker's lawyer, Martin Manton, faces a roller-coaster future: he will become a federal judge, be on the short list for the Supreme Court, serve as Chief Judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and wind up in jail for taking bribes.


An Editorial Comment on the Lusitania Notes

Last month the United States and Germany exchanged diplomatic notes following the attack on the Lusitania that cost the lives of 1,198 passengers and crew, including 128 Americans (see last month's installment of this blog).  On June 9, the United States sent a second note to Germany.  Like the first one, it was drafted principally by President Wilson himself.  It responds to several assertions made by Germany in its reply to the first note "with regard to the character and outfit of [the Lusitania]," telling the German government that "these are matters concerning which the Government of the United States is in a position to give the Imperial German Government official information."  It acknowledges that it was the duty of the United States, as a neutral power, "to see to it that the Lusitania was not armed for offensive action, that she was not serving as a transport, that she did not carry a cargo prohibited by the statutes of the United States, and that, if in fact she was a naval vessel of Great Britain, she should not receive clearance as a merchantman."  The note assures Germany that the United States "performed that duty and enforced its statutes with scrupulous vigilance through its regularly constituted officials" and "is able, therefore, to assure the Imperial German Government that it has been misinformed."  It asks the German Government, if it has "convincing evidence that the officials of the Government of the United States did not perform these duties with thoroughness," to "submit that evidence for consideration."  Referring to the contention that the Lusitania was carrying contraband munitions and that the torpedo caused those munitions to explode, the note says that those contentions are "irrelevant to the question of the legality of the methods used by the German naval authorities in sinking the vessel."  It asserts that "the sinking of passenger ships involves principles of humanity which throw into the background any special circumstances of detail that may be thought to affect the cases," and that, whatever other facts there might be, "the principal fact is that a great steamer, primarily and chiefly a conveyance for passengers, and carrying more than a thousand souls who had no part or lot in the conduct of the war, was torpedoed and sunk without so much as a challenge or a warning, and that men, women, and children were sent to their death in circumstances unparalleled in modern warfare."  The United States therefore "very earnestly and very solemnly renews the representations of [the first] note" and asks for assurances that the German Government will "adopt the measures necessary" for "the safeguarding of American lives and American ships."

The New Secretary of State

Although the second Lusitania note added little of substance to the earlier one, it had the important result of bringing about the resignation of the Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan.  He was known to have been unhappy with the position taken in the first note, preferring a warning to Americans not to travel on belligerent ships combined with a protest to Great Britain for its blockade policy.  When the second note restated and reenforced the position of the first, Bryan decided that he could no longer be identified with the government's position.  A broader and more important factor may have been his conviction that he had never been President Wilson's principal or most trusted adviser on foreign policy.  When Bryan met with the president on Monday, June 7, and told him of his intention to resign, among the reasons he gave was that "Colonel House has been your Secretary of State, not I, and I have never had your full confidence."  Bryan's letter of resignation was submitted the next day.  The president, in his reply, accepted it "with much more than deep regret -- with a feeling of personal sorrow,"  and said "We shall continue to work for the same causes even when we do not work in the same way."  The note to Germany, signed by State Department Counselor Robert Lansing as Acting Secretary, was delivered on June 9.  On June 23 the president appointed Lansing Secretary of State; the Senate confirmed his appointment the next day.  Lansing's father-in-law is John Foster, who was Secretary of State under President Benjamin Harrison.

Colonel House with President Wilson

After sending Lansing's name to the Senate, President Wilson left for a vacation in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he is staying again at novelist Winston Churchill's Harlakenden House.  On his way north, he stopped in New York to confer with Colonel House, who returned to the United States June 13 after four months in Europe.  In a report sent three days after his return, House told the president "I think we shall find ourselves drifting into war with Germany."  The two men met on June 24 at the Colonel's home at Roslyn, Long Island, where they discussed House's report and the details of his meetings with high-level officials of the British, French and German governments.  House told the president that, because the public in each of the warring countries is insistent that any peace agreement must justify the terrible losses already suffered, there is no possibility that any terms acceptable to one side would be acceptable to the other even as a basis for discussion. 

 Madison Square Garden

That evening in Manhattan, a huge peace rally was held at Madison Square Garden.  William Jennings Bryan, the recently resigned Secretary of State, addressed a capacity crowd that included the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish ambassadors and the German military and naval attaches.  Henry Weismann, president of the New York branch of the German-American Alliance, told the friendly crowd that "the pulse of America does not beat in the gilded halls of Washington.  The president is surrounded by sycophants on the one hand and by skilled, shrewd, paid agents of our enemies on the other."  He welcomed Bryan as "the new leader of the American people that stand for peace."  When Bryan took the podium, he tried to downplay his rift with the president, telling the crowd that he and President Wilson had "found it impossible to share responsibility together.  He could not do otherwise than he did, believing as he did, and I could not do otherwise than I did, believing as I did.  There was no concealment.  We separated as two friends should separate."  He said that "if war comes, we will stand as one man behind the Government, but until Congress declares war each citizen is at liberty to express his opinion as to whether or not there should be war."  He appealed to "the national honor of a peace-loving nation, not the false pride of a bully or a braggart," and concluded by asking "if others desire that our flag be feared, let us prefer that it be loved.  If others would have the world tremble in awe at the sight of it, let us pray that the plain people everywhere may turn their faces toward it and thank God that it is the emblem of justice and the hope of peace."

Outside, thousands more filled Madison Square Park and Madison Avenue from 23rd to 27th Street, listening to speakers who addressed the crowds from six outdoor stages, many speaking in German and all delivering essentially the same message in opposition to American involvement in the World War.

British Troops on the Attack

As if in mockery of the sentiments being expressed in Madison Square, war continued this month around the world.  On June 4 British and French forces on the Gallipoli peninsula mounted another attack in an attempt to secure the commanding heights of Achi Baba overlooking the Dardanelles, the original objective of the landing at Cape Helles.  Once again they fell short, and a Turkish counterattack on June 6 drove the Allies back to their original positions but failed to drive the Allies off the peninsula.  In eastern Europe, the Austro-German offensive in the Carpathians resulted in the capture of Przemysl on June 3 and of Lemberg on June 22.  On the Western Front, French attacks in Artois and on the Meuse-Argonne front resulted in thousands of casualties but no significant gains.  On the new front at the head of the Adriatic, Italian forces attacked Austro-Hungarian positions along the Isonzo River, but were turned back with heavy losses.  Nor has North America been peaceful: while there is no declared war, battles between competing factions in Mexico have been raging for over two years.  On June 2, President Wilson issued a statement to the warring parties warning them to come together and set up a government that other nations can deal with or risk American intervention.

Prime Minister Asquith

Great Britain may be the wealthiest nation in the world, but the strain of global war is beginning to be felt, financially and otherwise.  On June 15, Prime Minister Asquith told Parliament the war is costing Great Britain $13,000,000 a day, and the House of Commons voted an additional $1,250,000,000 in war appropriations, bringing the total so far to $4,310,000,000.  On June 19, the Prime Minister reported that British casualties in the war in Europe and the Mediterranean from the beginning of the war through the end of May have been 50,342 killed, 153,980 wounded, and 53,747 missing.  The Munitions for War Act became law on June 23.  It prohibits strikes in businesses supplying the armed forces and gives the newly created Ministry of Munitions, headed by David Lloyd George, power to regulate wages, hours and working conditions.

Lieutenant Warneford

For the British public, Zeppelin raids on English cities have added a new and frightening dimension to the war.  On June 7 aviator Lt. Reginald A. J. Warneford became a national hero when he attacked and destroyed a Zeppelin near Ghent as it was returning from a failed raid on London.  He is the first, and so far the only, aviator in history to bring down an airship.  Ten days later Warneford lost control of his aeroplane during a demonstration flight near Paris.  He and his passenger, an American journalist, were ejected and killed.

 Arizona Ready for Launch

The new American superdreadnought U.S.S. Arizona (BB-39) was launched at the New York Navy Yard on June 19 before some 75,000 spectators.  Arizona Governor George W. Hunt, New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and Admiral Frank F. Fletcher, Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, were among the dignitaries in attendance.  In recognition of Arizona's recent vote to become a dry state, a bottle of Arizona water as well as the traditional bottle of champagne was broken over the bow in the christening ceremony.  As she slid down the ways into the East River, she was greeted by whistles from the other warships present in the shipyard, including the battleships U.S.S. Wyoming, New York, Utah, Arkansas, Florida and Texas, and two flotillas of destroyers.  Tugboats took her in tow under the Williamsburg Bridge, and before long had her moored securely alongside her dock, where she will receive her guns, engines and other equipment.  When commissioned, Arizona and her sister ship U.S.S. Pennsylvania (BB-38), launched in March at Newport News, Virginia, will be the largest warships in the world, each displacing over 31,000 tons.

Secretary Garrison, General Scott and Colonel Townsley Reviewing the Corps of Cadets

On June 12 the United States Military Academy at West Point graduated 164 cadets, the largest class in its history.  Secretary of War Lindley Garrison, Army Chief of Staff Major General Hugh Scott and Academy Superintendent Colonel Clarence Townsley reviewed the cadets on parade, after which Secretary Garrison addressed the graduating class.  He told them that they might be called upon at any time to demonstrate their worth, and that upon their conduct "may depend issues of vital moment" to their country.  Each graduate was cheered as he received his diploma.  Judging from the volume and duration of the cheers as observed by the New York Times reporter, the most popular members of the graduating class were the athletic standouts, including Cadets James Van Fleet, Omar Bradley, and Dwight Eisenhower.  After the ceremony, the new second lieutenants went to New York for dinner and a Broadway play.

President Wilson Delivering his Flag Day Address

The Stars and Stripes was adopted as the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777.  In recent years the anniversary of that date has been unofficially observed as Flag Day.  On June 14 this year, President Wilson delivered an address from the south portico of the Treasury Department Building, next door to the White House.  He began by telling the assembled crowd that "for me the flag of the United States does not express a mere body of vague sentiment.  The flag of the United States has not been created by rhetorical sentences in declarations of independence and in bills of rights.  It has been created by the experience of a great people, and nothing is written upon it that has not been written by their life."  He closed by saying that he would like to see them "wear a little flag of the Union every day" but that "if you lose the physical emblem, be sure that you wear it in your heart, and the heart of America shall interpret the heart of the world."

Congressman Heflin (center) with Senators Vardaman (D., Miss.) and James (D., Ky.)

The United Confederate Veterans held their twenty-fifth annual reunion June 1-3 in Richmond, Virginia.  On June 2 they adopted a resolution "as soldiers, who know only too well the horrors of war, and as citizens of a reunited country."  The resolution praised President Wilson as one "who, strictly neutral between warring nations, will, with wisdom and courage, stand for all regard and respect for the honor of the American flag and a proper observance of the full rights of the humblest American citizen."  Congressman J. Thomas Heflin (D., Ala.) also praised the president, telling the veterans they had survived the Civil War "to see a man, born in the Southland, the son of a Confederate soldier, the President of the United States."

Chief Justice White

The Fifteenth Amendment, which became part of the United States Constitution in 1870, forbids states to deny the vote to citizens "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."  As Reconstruction ended and the Democratic Party regained control of the governments in the southern states, many of them adopted literacy and property ownership requirements for voting that were designed to deny the franchise to Negro citizens.  Those requirements passed constitutional muster, but they threatened to disenfranchise poor and illiterate whites as well as blacks, so many states added "grandfather clauses," exempting from the property and literacy requirements anyone who had been eligible to vote, or whose ancestors had been eligible to vote, prior to a given date (typically a date before the abolition of slavery).  On June 21 of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court held such "grandfather clauses" unconstitutional.  The vote was 8-0, with Mr. Justice McReynolds not voting.  The opinion was written by Chief Justice Edward White, a Democrat who grew up on a Louisiana plantation before the Civil War.  Property and literacy requirements for voting, where they exist, now apply to all citizens, but they are administered at the discretion of local officials, leaving much room for discrimination in their actual implementation.

Governor and Mrs. Slaton

On June 21, as his term was drawing to a close, Georgia Governor John Slaton commuted the death sentence of Leo Frank, the Atlanta pencil factory superintendent convicted of the murder two years ago of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old female factory employee, to life imprisonment.  Frank's trial was conducted in an atmosphere of intense hostility, fueled by antisemitism and marked by unruly mobs outside the courthouse demanding a guilty verdict.  (For further background, see the March 1914 and April 1915 installments of this blog.)  In considering the clemency petition the governor reviewed the evidence and heard arguments of counsel, following which he concluded that there was substantial doubt as to Frank's guilt.  He announced the commutation a day before Frank's scheduled execution, triggering mass protests at the Atlanta City Hall and at the courthouse where Frank had been tried.  Similar demonstrations took place elsewhere in the state.  In Marietta, Mary Phagan's home town, a life-size dummy bearing a sign that read "John M. Slaton, King of the Jews and Georgia's traitor forever" was strung to a telephone pole   In Newnan, not far from Atlanta, effigies of Slaton and Frank were hung to a giant oak tree in a park, then set on fire and dragged through the streets.  A few days later Governor Slaton attended his successor's inauguration, after which an armed escort was necessary to get him safely from the capitol building to his car and out of town.  At month's end, Slaton and his wife were visiting friends in New York prior to a tour of Canada.  He told reporters that "after a careful and long study of the great mass of evidence in the case it would have been simply impossible for me to have taken any other action than the one I did."

Martin Manton (right) at the Becker-Rosenthal Trial

In another high-profile murder case, former New York Police Lieutenant Charles Becker has lost his last appeal and faces the electric chair for ordering the 1912 murder of Herman Rosenthal to prevent him from giving evidence to District Attorney Charles Whitman.  (For further background, see the August and October 1912, March and April 1914, and May 1915 installments of this blog.)  Becker's motion for reconsideration of the Court of Appeals ruling was denied on June 18; his attorney Martin Manton has applied for clemency to Whitman, who is now the governor.  Manton has said he might ask Whitman, because of his prior involvement in the case, to step aside and let the clemency petition be considered by Lieutenant Governor Edward Schoeneck.


June 1915 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, July and August 1915
New York Times, June 1915

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
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
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume III: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916
Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
John Keegan, The First World War
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Erik Larson, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: The Struggle for Neutrality, 1914-1915
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram 
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts
Stanley Weintraub, Young Mr. Roosevelt: FDR's Introduction to War, Politics, and Life