Election ends November 13th
In this special edition of The Berley Brothers Web-Log, we have dispatched our straw-hatted pressmen far and wide to give unto you, our loyal readership, the most esteemed journalistic coverage of the 1912 election that we possibly can. And whatta rarity of a horse race it is! Four noble specimens are competing for a cushy seat in that ol’ ovoid office: current President William Howard Taft (hoping to be elected to a second term), New Jersey Governor Thomas Woodrow Wilson, former President Theodore Roosevelt who is seeking a non-consecutive third term in a newly established political party, and the red-flag waving socialist Eugene Victor Debs. By land, what a comeuppance! Before another word is stitched, it is with stern dutifulness that we inform you that our reportage knows not the curved bias of any hurled bowling ball, nor do our paper’s pages contain the sickly jaundice or yella’ canary feathers that you’re liable to find in the issues of a Hearst paper, which ain’t fit for the flooring of a birdcage. No-sir-ee, we here at this newspaper outfit and web-log trade are interested solely in the facts at hand. I’m the darndest muckraker you’ve set your sockets on, and I’ve worn a cow’s hide of shoe leather chasin’ down the dirt roads of this great nation of yours in pursuit of this foursome of highest-office-seekers; from campaign stop to campaign stop and convention floor to convention floor, and I’ve had a beeping symphony of Morse coded telegrams ringing in my ears that’ve sizzled through the wiry webbing of telegraph lines laced continent-wide. So, I hope to exhibit to you a view of the world as it was, if you’d only be so obliging as to peer through this chronoscopic lens to see just what the year 1912 was all about. And from there, I can give you a glimpse of the platforms that each of these men running for the Presidency held.
So here we have it– the temporal acreage of the year 1912. Well, it looks like it certainly inherited a doozy of activity. The world and the nation are changing at this time. Let’s take a look around, shall we? How about we stuff our luggage to skip off to the great land of China? It’s a straight billiard’s shot on the other side of the globe. Well, it appears that there’s some commotion there. The land is perfumed with the fragrance of lotus blossoms and opium smoke, the latter thanks to the salesmanship and bayonets of the British Empire, which picked up a few bouncy “spheres of influence”, like Hong Kong, for instance. But it appears as if there is unease amongst the inhabitants. In 1911, we saw the Wuchang Uprising in the Hubei Province on account a’ people bein’ upset over a railway crisis. This here was a catalyst for the Xinhai Revolution. And whuddya know? The Qing Dynasty, which’d been in charge for 268 years prior, was ousted. On New Years Day of 1912, the first-ever Republic of China was declared, with Mister Sun Yat-sen followin’ the good example of Georgie Washington by bein’ the first president.
What else’ve we got goin’ on ‘round the globe? Well, the Italians and the Turks of the Ottoman Empire appear to be embroiled in a spat. The Italians seem to be fighting for seizure of the grand ol’ cities of Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica, which are presently under Ottoman rule. And, look at this! The Italians used an aeroplane for military purpose when conducting reconnaissance flights over Libya. That makes ‘em the first ever to do such a thing. And, look at this… the Balkan League ain’t especially pleased with the Ottoman Turks either, and they’re preparin’ for attack.
How ‘bout our own country’s military squabbles and domestic brouhaha? Well, how ‘bout in the Philippines? Now, y’see, back ‘round the turn of the century, a whole ‘lotta Filipino natives sought political independence from the Spanish crown. The rebels called themselves “Katipunan”, meaning “gather together” in the Tagalog tongue. Well, eventually they seceded from the Spanish monarchy, but that’s where Uncle Sam steps in, see? We had ourselves a dust-up with the Spaniards ourselves. We fought ‘em for their possessions in the Pacific, and we played for keeps. Madrid sued for peace, and in ‘98 President McKinley had the Treaty of Paris drawn up, and we got “indefinite colonial authority” over Puerto Rico, Guam, and, yeppers, the Philippines. Problem is, the Filipinos weren’t so keen on the idea. They seemed to think we were illegally invasive, and that we were takin’ advantage of their natural resources like sugarcane for the profit of the American Sugar Refining Company. Which is ridiculous. America would never invade another country for its natural resources, but only to spread freedom and democracy. Anyhow, these Katipunan continued to fight for years thenceforth, up until now in 1912, even, suffering anywhere between 34,000 to 1,000,000 casualties. Now, this is where our current President William Howard Taft comes in. Y’see, in the 1890s, Taft sat plumply on the United States Court of Appeals of the Sixth Circuit. But in 1900, since-assassinated President William Mckinley plucked up Taft (which was quite a feat) to have him serve as the Governor-General of the Philippines under the Second Philippine Commision, which served as an interim government for the islands. In 1902, Taft visited Rome to meet with Pope Leo XIII to negotiate the purchase of the Philippine lands from the Roman Catholic Church. In 1904, Taft was again uneasily plucked by then-President Theodore Roosevelt (Roosevelt was sworn in as President following the assassination of William McKinley) to serve on his cabinet as Secretary of War.
The year 1912 saw another island war in which the United States was involved: The so-called “Negro Rebellion” or “Little Race War” in Cuba. Many black Afro-Cubans, descended from slaves during the centuries of slave trading, lived in poverty and squalor on the island. They worked daylong and into the night chopping sugarcane with machetes for piffling wages. The “Independent Party of Color” was formed by Evaristo Estenoz to support the betterment of life for these workers, and they took armed revolt against the Cuban government, led by president José Miguel Gómez y Gómez. In 1912 William Howard Taft sent in a detachment of 688 marines to assist Gómez in putting down the rebellion. They arrived at Guantanamo Bay on March 13th. The rebels were outnumbered and outgunned, and Estonoz was killed by Cuban government forces on June 27th. 3,000-6,000 Afro-Cubans were killed, and the Independent Party of Color was dissolved.
Now then, what was going on in America? Well, a number of things. In 1912, New Mexico was admitted as the 47th State in the Union, and Arizona became the 48th. On April 14th, the RMS “Titanic”, A British passenger liner, was sunk in the middle of the icy Atlantic Ocean after it was struck by an iceberg that was noticed too late, and its iron side was torn asunder. 1,500 lives were lost on that infamous day, and the survivors numbered little over 700. On March 1st, Captain Albert Berry became the first man to jump from a plane in a parachute. He leapt 1,500 feet from a Benoist pusher biplane and landed in Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. In the streets of New York City on May the 6th, suffragettes marched openly down the street, carrying American flags, sashes that said “Votes For Women”, and banners repeating the colonial call “No Taxation without Representation”. This year, Fenway Park opened in Boston and Tiger Stadium opened in Detroit. The Boston Red Sox beat the New York Giants in a thriller of a game. By 1912, hundreds of thousands of immigrants were streaming into America through places like Ellis Island, many of them Italians from the Campania region of southern Italy, Sicilians, Irish folk, Jews from Eastern Europe and the Russian Pale, Armenians and Greeks from Constantinople, and a slew of nations around the globe. Indeed, as the sonneteer Emma Lazarus had put it, we accepted “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Industry was booming and monopolies had power structures as vertical as the skyscrapers they erected. This is a topic of much heated discussion amongst the voting populace.
So, let’s get to it, shall we? Let’s meet out four contenders…
First and foremost, William Howard Taft is a Yale man. He comes from a strong family. He is a descendent of Alphonso Taft, who served as Secretary of War and Attorney General under Ulysses S. Grant. Taft is also versed in the legal tradition of our country. He earned his Bachelor of Laws from Cincinnati Law School in 1880. If anyone knows how to eat Cincinnati ice cream, it is William Howard Taft. In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Taft to be the Solicitor General of the United States — he was the youngest and the largest to fill that position. We’ve already gone over Taft’s experience as the Governor-General of the Philippines between 1900-1904, and mentioned that he was Roosevelt’s Secretary of War between 1904-1908, where he temporarily became the Civil Governor of Cuba. He personally dined with Castillo to negotiate a peaceful end to the revolt. In 1907 with the signing of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty the United States was granted permission to construct the Panama Canal. President Roosevelt delegated this to Taft’s War Department. By 1908, Roosevelt wanted Taft to run for the Presidency as his successor, but Taft was at first reluctant, since he really wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice instead. After some arm-bending, Taft complied and ran for President, defeating the populist Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan. Taft has been less forceful than his predecessor with executive power, saying “the President can exercise no power which cannot fairly be traced to some specific grant of power in the Constitution or act of Congress.” He is more soft-spoken than Roosevelt, and is quite adept at negotiation and compromise. He is not progressive enough for progressives with the tariff rates and not conservative enough for conservatives who favor big business. Taft has filed nearly twice the amount of anti-trust suits to break up monopolies as did his predecessor Roosevelt in his two terms in office. But Taft is not a bragging man. In fact, he is somewhat humble to a fault. His efforts to please all sides can sometimes leave him alienated, even in his own Republican Party. Which is not to say that President Taft does not know how to maneuver, for he is very clever in this regard. He is a man who can quell trouble. In 1911, when railroad companies were threatening to raise prices by 20%, Taft threatened them with the Sherman Antitrust Act, and they settled down. On April 12th of this year, Taft also created the United States Chamber of Commerce to offset the rise of the labor movement. Taft also introduced the Corporate Income Tax, growing federal receipts by many million dollars.
So, President Taft is a complicated man. He likes to please many sides, but simultaneously he can seem indifferent to certain interests and operates under his own will. He has accomplished many things throughout his political career for good and ill, but you cannot call him a man who does not pay attention.
Woodrow Wilson wears frameless spectacles and has neatly-combed hair. He is an intellectual and you can see the machinery of a vast repository of information behind his eyes. He is a Southerner, having been born in Virginia the third of four children. His father was a slave-owner and a chaplain for the Confederate Army. Wilson recalls that in his early boyhood he got to stare up into the face of General Robert E. Lee. Wilson was sickly as a child, and his mother was very over-protective. His interests turned to the pursuit of scholarship and civic study. His graduate studies were at John Hopkins University and his dissertation was entitled “Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics”; he received a doctorate in political science. He then turned to pedagogy, teaching at Bryn Mawr College, Wesleyan University, and after some years he snagged himself the presidency of Princeton University. From here, Wilson would go on to be elected as the Governor of New Jersey as a Democrat.
Wilson has some rather stark views on the structure of the American government. He seems to view its present alignment as outdated and insufficient. “What’s with all these checks and balances?” he wonders to himself. It’s so slow and tedious. He thinks the parliamentary system of European counterparts much more favorable than all this bicamerality of legislative houses, and distance between the Executive branch and the Legislative branch, and so on… what America needs is “power and strict responsibility!”
Wilson is not, as of now, a supporter of Women’s Suffrage. We here at The Berley Brothers Web-Log disagree with this stance, although our position is far from a popular one. Many of the persons within our employ are of the female persuasion, and we think it would be right proper for them to be able to cast a vote. We hope you keep this in mind this November.
As for the Race Question, Wilson is equally unvocal — his campaign staff is segregated, and we suspect that his White House would be as well. Wilson is running under the slogan “New Freedom”, but we question whether that freedom extends to all, or only the sanctioned. The freedom of Benjamin Franklin’s imagination seems far more spacious, indeed.
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, for whom umpteen snuggly toy bears owe their namesake, is unquestionably one of the most charismatic men in American political history. He will forever be remembered as a chief reformer who ushered in the progressive era in his first two terms in office. He was an avid “trust buster”, who broke up many monopolies in the world of industry who had a stranglehold on the American market and who squashed competition. He is an outdoorsman who strode the American frontier on horseback, living in his earlier years as a cowboy in Dakota, swinging lasso and all. He wrote articles on frontier life for magazines on the Eastern seaboard, and he even spilled the details about how he hunted down three outlaws who stole his riverboat up the waters of the Little Missouri. But, let it be known, Teddy Roosevelt is a native New Yorker and was a frail asthmatic child in his youth. His upbringing was economically privileged but difficult because of his ailments. He was often bedridden, but he absorbed as much adventure as he could through the world of books. He was home schooled, and excelled in a variety of subjects. His father wanted to strengthen Teddy bodily, so he encouraged that the growing boy take up boxing lessons. Teddy boxed the world over, even taking a trip to Egypt to throw-down on the desert canvas in 1872. When he came of age to go on to academia, Teddy went to Harvard University, where he edited The Harvard Advocate. From there he went on to study at Columbia Law School, but dropped out when offered to serve as a New York Assemblyman. We mentioned Teddy’s various adventures as a huntsman and cowboy in the wilds of Dakota and Missouri, but he returned to public life to serve on the United States Civil Service Commission, and later he became the New York City Police Commissioner, where he reformed the department, made the .32 Caliber Colt revolver a standard-issue weapon, and cracked down on widespread corruption within the ranks. He also read muckraking documentary photographer Jacob Riis’s book How the Other Half Lives, and attempted to deal more directly with the suffering and poverty that scarred the city. Roosevelt was also the Assistant Secretary of the Navy under William Mckinley and helped prepare the American Navy for the Spanish-American War. Additionally, when the U.S. invaded Cuba, Roosevelt resigned from the Navy and volunteered to fight in-person on Cuban soils with a group of Harvard friends, forming the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, or as the newspapers dubbed them, “The Rough Riders.”
So, T.R. can throw a punch, shoot a gun, lasso a steer, and fight crime. Where does he stand on the issues? What’s so different about his campaign in 1912? Well, first of all, let me tell you boys and girls, the game has changed. Former President Roosevelt has had some very public disagreements with President Taft for a number of years now. Heck, it’s all over the papers. They’ve bickered back and forth like they’re on a playground. But, y’see, that was all well and good, until ol’ Roosevelt decides to challenge Taft for the ‘12 ticket on the Republican Party! The Republican Convention was held in the Windy City of Chicago on the week of June 18th. Taft (recall, this gent can maneuver around as good as anybody!) tried to pick himself up some delegates earlier, and he cozied up to a great stretch of party organizers in the Southern States. Now, see, Southerners ain’t particularly keen on ol’ Roosevelt, on account a’ back in ‘01 Roosevelt dined with the black activist Booker T. Washington who was advocating the advancement of his people’s condition within the fabric of American society. Booker was the first black man to publicly dine with a sitting President in the White House. Now, the fairer minded of you would think that this was a marvellous advance, but this sent the South into quite the whirlwind and they haven’t since recovered, so they hold a grudge against noble Theodore Roosevelt. Anywho, back to this Convention. There was an out-and-out schism in the Republican Party. The chairmen kept seating delegates for Taft, even in California where Roosevelt had won the primary. So Roosevelt challenged the credentials of just about half the folks there. On June 22nd, Roosevelt in anger had his Progressive-minded delegates walk from the convention. The remaining delegates seated the incumbents of Taft and Vice President James S. Sherman.
So, what’s Roosevelt done? Something rather historic. He has created a whole new political party, The Progressive Party. They reconvened in Chicago in August with over 2,000 delegates. Roosevelt has adopted Women’s Suffrage into the new party platform, and suffragette and Hull House founder Jane Addams gave a stirring speech at the convention offering her endorsement. Addams is a philanthropist, philosopher, reformer, and pacifist, and she lives in a “Boston Marriage” with her fellow-activist Ellen Gates Starr. Other planks of the party platform include a National Health Service, Social insurance, an eight hour workday, farm relief, worker’s compensation, a minimum wage law for womenfolk, and a federal securities commission. Roosevelt has even been campaigning in stark new methods, making his campaign candidate-centered instead of party-centered, he is speaking directly to the public through speeches, phonographic recordings, and newspapers, and he is advocating more direct action of the populace in the decision-making of the democracy. Goers to the convention broke out in song of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Onward Christian Soldiers”. Indeed, he is a fiery candidate with some ideas in his head, and he has the wherewithal to change the political game.
And what’s more! In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the former President was about to deliver a speech when he was leaving his hotel, he was fired upon by saloonkeeper and would-be assassin John Schrank, who later claimed that the ghost of President William McKinley had appeared to him in a dream, and instructed him to kill Roosevelt for seeking a third term. The bullet passed through the fifty-page speech that was in Roosevelt’s jacket pocket and a steel eyeglass case, and entered into his body between some ribs. The former President remained standing, noticed that he was not coughing blood (although his shirt was soaking with it), and he decided to deliver his speech as planned. He announced to the crowd that he had been shot, and that “it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!” The former President spoke for ninety minutes while bleeding profusely.
Now that takes some conviction.
Socialist. Red. Traitor. Champion of the workingman. Eugene Victor Debs, the Hoosier from Terre Haute, Indiana, has been called many things in his lifetime. He certainly is a polarizing figure in the American political scene, and is a practiced agitator and radical– terms he would not shy away from but wear emblematically. Debs is proud of the red flag, in fact, he wrote: “A vast amount of ignorant prejudice prevails against the red flag. It is easily accounted for. The ruling class the wide world over hates it, and its sycophants, therefore, must decry it. Strange that the red flag should produce the same effect upon a tyrant that it does upon a bull.”
Eugene’s parents emigrated to America from Alsace, France. He dropped out of high school to take up employment at a railyard, painting cars and cleaning them out. Next, he worked at a wholesale grocery school for four years. From here, he went on to become a locomotive fireman. He joined the trade’s union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, even serving as a delegate at the organization’s national convention. He went on to be an associate editor of their publication, The Fireman, and became active in steering the group towards more collective bargaining measures. He eventually left the Brotherhood, which he felt was too passive, and he went on to found the American Railway Union, which successfully struck the Great Northern Railway in 1894.
Also in that year, Debs participated in and eventually led the Pullman Strike, which struck the Pullman Palace Car Company. There was a dispute in worker’s wages, and after the banking Panic of ‘93, worker’s wages were threatened to be reduced by 23%. 80,000 workers refused to handle Pullman cars or cars attached to them. Grover Cleveland sent in the United States Army to break the strike. Thirteen strikers were killed, thousands were blacklisted, and there is said to have been $80 million dollars worth of damages. Debs was sent to federal prison for contempt and was eventually represented in court by up-and-coming lawyer Clarence Darrow.
While in prison, Debs remembered having read the novels of socialist utopian author Francis Bellamy. He eventually read a great amount of socialist and communist material, including Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital.” Once out of prison, he founded the Social Democracy of America project, and later the Social Democratic Party of the United States. He was the candidate for the Socialist Party of America in 1904, 1908, and now in 1912. On Theodore Roosevelt, Debs calls him “a charlatan, mountebank, and fraud, and his Progressive promises and pledges as the mouthings of a low and utterly unprincipled self seeker and demagogue.” His words are equally unkind for “Injunction Bill Taft” and Governor Wilson.
Ultimately, Debs is a Romantic, with a poet’s heart and a snowball’s chance, but, by golly, if he doesn’t put up a fight. And give a punch of a speech. He states:
“There is growing every hour a new consciousness of the purposes of BEING, and there is such a healthy, hearty, emphatic enthusiasm in it all as promises vast changes and uplift for humanity. The converging streams of races are now neighborly and accessible; superstitions are being overthrown, and the People are being prepared.”
So, dear reader, this is a sampling of the global scenario as we see it, these are the issues, these are the events, and these are the players. Just as daylight progresses with the turn of the Earth, it is our fervent wish and deeply felt expectation that humanity will progress apace. We trust that you will cast your vote with wisdom, and we ask that you contribute your best efforts for the betterment of human family and the world in which it resides.
Reporting for The Berley Brothers Web-Log,
Jeffrey T. Heinbach