From Taft to Harding

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This post is an excerpt from the book, The Life and Times of Warren Webster, by Warren Webster, Jr.

William Howard Taft was one of the ablest men ever to occupy the presidency, but he was no politician. His administration was marked from first to last by a series of controversies. The first of these arose when he supported his Secretary of the Interior, Richard A. Ballinger, against the attacks of Chief Forester Gifford A. Pinchot.

Theodore Roosevelt on his return from his African-European tour was quickly won over by Mr. Taft’s enemies. After several bitter speeches on both sides, Mr. Roosevelt openly came out as a candidate for the Republican nomination in opposition to Taft in the convention of 1912.

When Taft was re-nominated, Roosevelt “bolted” and set up the “Bull-Moose” or Progressive Party, by which he was nominated for president and Governor Hiram W. Johnson, of California, for vice-president.

This splitting of the Republican Party insured the election of the Democratic candidates, Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey and Governor T. R. Marshall of Indiana for president and vice-president, respectively. Election results: Wilson, 435 electoral votes: Roosevelt 88: Taft 8.

And here are a few of the interesting happenings during 1912-1913:

  • January 20, 1911—Andrew Carnegie gave $10,000,000 to Carnegie Institute, Washington, D. C.
  • January 21, 1911—Reciprocity Treaty signed between United States and Canada.
  • January 30, 1911—Eruption of Taal Volcano, Philippine Islands, results in loss of 1,300 lives.
  • February 6,1911—Nearly one-half of Constantinople destroyed by fire.
  • March 7, 1911—Michelin Prize of $20,000 won by Renaux in Paris to Puy-de-Dome flight, 210 miles: time, 5 hours.
  • March 7, 1911—United States orders 20,000 troops to Mexican border to protect American lives and property.
  • April 14-15, 1912—The White Star Liner Titanic, newest and largest floating palace, on its maiden voyage to America struck an iceberg off Cape Race and sank in a few hours, with the loss of 1,503 lives. Included in this list were scores of American notables, men and women, from the foremost ranks of social and professional life. [Including some from Camden, NJ.—ed.]
  • May 15, 1911—Supreme Court upholds the dissolution of Standard Oil Company.
  • May 26, 1911—Vedrines flies from Paris to Madrid. Time, 12 hours 18 minutes.
  • May 28, 1911—Supreme Court decrees dissolution of Tobacco Trust.
  • July 1, 1911—Gordon Bennett Cup for aerial speed won by C. T. Weymann, representing the United States.
  • September 5-6, 1911—T. W. Burgess, of England, swam English Channel.
  • October 5, 1911—Tripoli was occupied by Italians.
  • February 14, 1912—Arizona was admitted to Statehood.
  • August 24, 1912—Panama Canal Bill was signed by President Taft allowing United States coastal vessels to use canal free.
  • On October 17-18, 1912, was begun the First Balkan War, between Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece on one side and Turkey on the other. The allies speedily wrested practically all of European Turkey from the Ottoman Empire and peace was signed at London, May 30, 1913.

The victorious allies now fell to quarreling, and on June 30th, without declaring war, Bulgaria attacked Serbia, Montenegro and Greece. Almost at the outset these attacks were repulsed and the Greeks, Serbians and Montenegrins launched a successful counter-offensive. Rumania, hitherto neutral, now declared war on Bulgaria and marched against Sofia. The Turks re-occupied Adrianople. Bulgaria then sued for peace, which was signed at Bucharest,. August 10, 1913.

* * *

Woodrow Wilson took office in March, 1913. While actually elected by a minority, he had a majority both in the House and Senate. He immediately plunged into social legislation and reforms. Said he: “We need no revolution, we need no excited change; we need only a new point of view and a new method and spirit of counsel.” Nevertheless, his efforts were always opposed by the conservatives.

Wilson had inherited trouble with Mexico from the Taft administration. In that country revolution followed revolution and chaotic conditions prevailed. After the slaying of Madero and Suarez, he refused to recognize Huerta.

After numerous “incidents” and insults to the American flag, the United States seized Vera Cruz April 21, 1913. In July, Huerta fled the country.

In the following year, a raid into the United States by Pancho Villa, Mexican bandit, caused the President to order 100,000 men to the border, and a punitive expedition was sent into Mexico to capture Villa. The expedition was commanded by General John J. Pershing—a name which first “broke into the news” at this time but is destined to live forever in American history.

On August 15, 1914, another great dream became a reality—the Panama Canal was opened to commerce. No longer was it necessary to “weather the Horn” to reach the West Coast of the Americas. No longer was it necessary for a United States warship to steam 14,000 miles to come from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast, or vice versa.

But even as the Canal became an actuality, the news of it, of the Mexican troubles and other matters were dwarfed by the happenings in Europe.

On June 28, 1914, came word of an occurrence which was to set in motion a train of events which would cost millions of lives and countless treasure, and create and obliterate empires.

At Sarajevo, in the lately-annexed province of Bosnia, Gavrio Princip, a Bosnian-Serb student, shot and killed Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his morganatic wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg.

On July 23rd, Austria presented an impossible ultimatum to Serbia—and Serbia called on Russia for aid. Russia mobilized.

August 1st, Germany declared war on Russia. France mobilized.

Russians invaded East Prussia and Germans invaded Russian Poland. Italy declared for neutrality. Turco-German treaty signed and Turkey mobilized.

August 3rd, Belgium refused passage to German troops. Germany declared war on France.

August 4th, Great Britain declared war on Germany.

August 5th, Austria declared war on Russia.

Declarations of war followed each other quickly as the smaller countries took sides. About a year later, Italy joined the Franco-British alliance.

The catastrophe dreaded for forty years had come to pass.

Europe was at war—and not only in Europe, but in Asia, in Africa and on the seven seas thousands of men were being hacked, blown to pieces and drowned daily.

At first, Mr. Wilson was for rigid neutrality—”even in thought,” as he pedantically expressed it, and his sentiments were largely shared by the country at large, although German sympathizers were far from few. Confronted with German ruthlessness, sentiment began to change. Then on May 7, 1915, the Cunard liner Lusitania was torpedoed without warning off the south coast of Ireland, with the loss of 1,198 lives, 115 of whom were Americans.

On May 10th, Mr. Wilson made his famous “too proud to fight” speech at Philadelphia. Instantly he received three hundred telegrams and countless letters of indignation and protest against his “cowardice.”

Nevertheless, in the elections of 1916, running on a pacifist platform with the slogan “he kept us out of war,” Mr. Wilson defeated the Republican candidate, Charles Evans Hughes, by a small margin. But, as the months passed, the German “unrestricted submarine warfare” and the participation by German diplomatic agents in bombings and sabotage created incident after incident which could no longer be ignored. On April 2, 1917, Mr. Wilson asked for a declaration of war against Germany.

The resolution was passed by the Senate on the 4th and by the House on the 6th. The draft included all men between 18 and 45—and 11,000,000 registered. On November 11, 1918, the date of the armistice, there were in France 2,071,463 American troops, including 82,000 officers. At the same time there were encamped and training in the United States 1,634,499 men, including 104,155 officers, or a total under arms, exclusive of the naval forces, of 3,700,000.

Actual contact with the enemy was first established by American troops on November 3, 1917, between Arracourt and Parroy.

On May 28, 1918, Cantigny was captured by Americans, and they again distinguished themselves at the capture of Belleau Woods, June 11, 1918. A small force was also sent at this time to the Italian front. On September 11th, an American army, operating alone for the first time, began attacking the Saint Mihiel salient, finally breaking the front, driving out the Germans and capturing 443 guns and 16,000 prisoners. From September 26th to November llth, they participated continuously in the Meuse-Argonne drive, which at last cut the German communications and forced the request for an armistice.

The American losses were as follows: Killed in action, 35,556; died of wounds, 20,799; died of disease, 24,786; wounded, 179,625; missing, 1,160; prisoners, 2,163; total, 264,089.

Mr. Wilson now joined in the Peace Conference at Paris, where for a time he was unquestionably the most popular and most powerful man in the world. Not only did he participate in writing the Treaty, but he was the force behind the formulating of a plan for a world confederation of states—the League of Nations. He also signed a treaty of alliance between England, France and the United States, pledging the United States to join in a war occasioned by the invasion of France by Germany. On June 28, 1919, President Wilson and his four commissioners, on behalf of the United States, signed the Treaty of Versailles, including the covenant of the League of Nations.

Mr. Wilson returned to the United States to face a hostile Congress and Foreign Relations Committee. A general repudiation of his work at Paris seemed inevitable. The President set out on a tour to lay the matter before the country, but the terrific mental strain and exertion which he had undergone brought on a stroke of paralysis and he had to be brought back to Washington.

Following the restoration of peace, a strange disregard for unity, patriotism and idealism seemed to take possession of the country. Industrialists and labor locked horns savagely. The specter of a “Red” Revolution presented itself. There were at least two million workmen on strike, with bloody clashes everywhere.

The explosion of a giant bomb in front of the office building of Morgan & Company, killing thirty and injuring hundreds threw the country into an uproar.

Attorney-General Palmer encouraged action against the “red” element and thousands of “reds” and alleged “reds” were rounded up in raids.

An additional disturbing factor was the white-hooded and gowned order of hoodlums calling themselves the Km Klux Klan, in imitation of the secret Southern society of post-Civil War Days. The avowed purpose of this Order was the persecution of Jews, Catholics and negroes. Innumerable outrages, such as the burning of churches, whipping and tarring of innocent persons and lynching of negroes were perpetrated either by the Order or in its name, accompanied by the fantastic burning of crosses. This movement and its sponsors faded by 1927.

In the 1920 elections the Republicans were returned to power. Senator Warren G. Harding, of Ohio, was elected president, and Governor Calvin Coolidge, of Massachusetts, vice-president. The defeated Democratic candidates were Governor James M. Cox, of Ohio, for president, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, of New York, for vice-president. For the first time the results of an election were broadcast over the radio by station KDKA, Westinghouse Station.

Mr. Wilson’s last official act was to accompany President Harding to the Capitol. He then lived in retirement until his death on February 3, 1924. His place in the history of the United States and of the world is not yet fixed; in the light of subsequent events it may very well be that of a man who lived before his time and endeavored to hasten conditions which his fellow men were not ready to appreciate.

The rapid development of all branches of aeronautics during this period and its adoption as a new factor in modern warfare is clearly shown by this partial record:

  • September 22, 1914—British airmen raided Dusseldorf.
  • June 2, 1915—The Ford Motor Company increased its capital stock from $2,000,000 to $100,000,000.
  • October 23, 1915—25,000 women paraded in New York for Women Suffrage.
  • December 25, 1915—German dirigibles bombed Yarmouth.
  • June 15, 1915—Allied planes bombed Karlsruhe; German Zeppelins raided Northeast England.
  • January 29, 1916—German Zeppelins raided Paris and killed or wounded 50 persons.
  • January 21, 1916—Zeppelins bombed England killing 70 persons.
  • March 20, 1916—Squadron of 65 allied planes bombarded Zeebrugge.
  • May 17, 1916—Victor Louvet, Italian, set altitude record of 20,500 feet.
  • September 23, 1916—Twelve Zeppelins bombed London, killing 30 persons and wounding 115.
  • October 8, 1916—German U-boat sank nine ships in vicinity of Rhode Island.
  • June 13, 1917—Daylight air-raid on London. Killed, 162; 432 wounded.
  • August 26, 1917—Captain Laureati flew from Turin to Naples and back, 960 miles, non-stop. A world’s record.
  • September 3, 1917—Air-raid on Chatham area; 132 killed; 96 wounded.
  • November 7, 1917—Lenin seized power in Russia.
  • July 16, 1918—Czar and Imperial Family murdered by revolutionists at Ekaterinburg.
  • January 2, 1919—New altitude record of 30,500 feet, set by Captain A. Lang and Lieutenant Blowes, England.
  • February 3, 1919—League of Nations Commission held first meeting at Paris—President Wilson presiding.
  • March 20, 1919—Wireless Telephone (Radio) connection established between Ireland and Canada.
  • April 19, 1919—First non-stop flight between Chicago and New York, by Captain E. F. White.
  • April 26, 1919—United States Naval seaplane remained in air for 20 hours at 60 miles per hour, breaking all records for endurance flights.
  • May 27, 1919—United States Naval seaplane NC-4 flew to Lisbon from Newfoundland, stopping at Azores. First Atlantic crossing by air.
  • June 7, 1919—Casale, French aviator, set new altitude record—33,100 feet.
  • June 14-15, 1919—Daily Mail Prize of $50,000 won by Alcock and Brown, for first non-stop flight across Atlantic—Newfoundland to Clifeden, Ireland. Time, 16 hours, 12 minutes. This was eight years before Lindbergh’s flight.
  • July 4, 1919—Jack Dempsey defeated Jesse Willard for world’s heavyweight championship, at Toledo, Ohio.
  • July 6, 1919—British dirigible, R-34, flew from New York to Norfolk, England, in 75 hours.
  • August 25, 1919—London-Paris passenger air-service inaugurated.
  • September 18, 1919—New altitude record of 34,610 feet, set by Roland Rohlfs, near New York.
  • December 2, 1919—Mail plane set speed record of 138 miles per hour flying from Washington to New York.
  • December 10, 1919—The brothers Ross and Keith Smith, British officers, flew from England to Australia in 28 days, winning Australian Government Prize of $50,000.
  • January 16, 1920—National Prohibition went into effect, a social experiment destined to profoundly influence every phase of our national life. The importance and duration of that influence can only be conjectured at this time.
  • August 18, 1920—The Women Suffrage Amendment was ratified.

* * *

In 1920—Nine out of every ten automobiles were “open.” Self-starters were rare; “Annette Kellerman” bathing suits—two-piece, with stockings, were the “advanced” style; “Bobbed” hair was generally regarded as the symbol of a suffragette or a “radical.”


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