February 13: Political Emotionalists and Neurotics; Mysteries of Providence

Taft declares war on the Progressives, Wilson says the Republican Party is broken, someone thinks Taft should nominate a woman to the Supreme Court, and Bryan's most die-hard supporter has given up. 

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Taft declares war on the Progressives, Wilson says the Republican Party is broken, someone thinks Taft should nominate a woman to the Supreme Court, and Bryan's most die-hard supporter has given up. (Click here for an introduction to The 1912 Project; click here for previous installments.) 

Political Emotionalists and Neurotics President Taft's response to the gathering candidates who are seeking to push him off the Republican ticket this fall has been described as meek, mild and aloof. But following last week's announcement he was going to open a campaign headquarters, he took the occasion of Lincoln's birthday, the G.O.P.'s most hallowed political holiday, to deliver his most fiery defense of his conservative program in the face of the Progressive challenge at the Republican Club's 26th Lincoln Day dinner in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom. (See above, courtesy of the front page of today's reliably Republican New York Tribune if you want to know what a gathering of Republicans looked like in 1912.) The buzzword of the speech was progress, as in "being a party of progress," or "the progress that has been made," or "much progress against such abuses," or "the only progress that has been made," or "to forecast progress in this direction," or "I admit that we have progressed," or "instrumentally in the progress of civilization," to pick a few examples from just first half. But the quote that is leading most of the papers today (or at least the Republican-leaning ones) is, "The Republican party is entitled to be called truly progressive." But that bit came at the end of a rather long sentence in which Taft defended his record in regulating railroads under the Interstate Commerce Commission: "In so far, therefore, as progressive policy in politics means the close regulation of state given privilege, so as to secure its use for the benefit of the public and to restrain abuse for the undue profit of the grantee of the privilege, the Republican is entitled to be called truly progressive."

Taft, however, was clear that those running against him under the Progressive banner do not mean such limited regulatory moves. The idea of direct election of Senators, recalls, ballot initiatives and other small-d democratic proposals were downright evil (prepare for familiar historical hyperbole), according to the President:

With the effort to make the selection of candidates, the enactment of legislation and the decision of courts depend on the momentary passions of a people necessarily indifferently informed as to the issues presented, and without he opportunity having been given them for time and study and that deliberation that gives security and common sense to the government of the people, such extremists would hurry us into a condition which could find no parallel except in the French Revolution or in that bubbling anarchy that once characterized the South American republics. Such extremists are not progressives; they are political emotionalists or neurotics...."

The New York Times calls it a "ringing speech." The New York Tribune went with the front-page headline "TAFT SURE PARTY WILL WIN AGAIN" and threw in the color that his audience "interrupted time and again with enthusiastic clapping and cheering." Across the continent, The San Francisco Call headlines the speech as "TAFT UNMASKS FALSE PROPHETS IN THE PARTY." Up in Boston, the Evening Transcript simply writes, "TAFT DECLARES WAR."

Mysteries of Providence By happenstance, Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson was in Chicago yesterday giving his own Lincoln Day speech, but to a Democratic club. According to The New York Times' account, it's a near point-by-point rebuttal to Taft. Of the Republicans claim to Lincoln's legacy, "I sometimes think it a peculiar circumstance that the present Republican Party should have sprung from Abraham Lincoln. I suppose that is one of the mysteries of Providence," he said. "The Republican Party is sadly broken. It has lost its way It has been the business man's party in so many personally conducted campaigns that many believe nobody else knows anything about prosperity." Defending those direct democracy reforms that Taft warned heralded the guillotine, he continued, "Business and politics must be separated. Give politics a chance without the domination of special privilege and great wealth. The biggest enemy business has is the man with a programme which goes further than he can see."

Poles Denounce Wilson Speaking of Wilson, for some reason Polish organizations throughout New York have been holding meetings denouncing the candidate. Yesterday's Pittsburgh Gazette Times notes that there was a meeting on Sunday at the New Assembly Hall in Brooklyn (they call it Williamsburgh, today you would call it Greenpoint) in which "Resolutions were passed declaring that if by any chance he received the nomination, it was the duty of every Polish-American citizen to work energetically to keep him out of the presidential chair." There's no word on what they are mad about. But a squib in the Feb. 8 New York Times about an upcoming meeting of Manhattan Polish societies offers a bit of a clue were to discuss "statements in his History of the American People, which the Poles regarded as a slur on their race."

A Modest Proposal Since September 1911, newspaper magnate Edward W. Scripps, (founder of Associated Press competitor United Press Association) has been conducting an ad-less newspaper experiment in Chicago called The Day Book. Aimed at a working class readership, its cost is kept to a penny by printing on tiny 9" by 6" pages that carry just two columns of text each. Today's edition urges Taft to nominate a woman for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the passing of Justice John Marshall Harlan last October. (He was the lone dissenter to the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that gave constitutional blessing to "separate but equal" segregation.)

The Day Book has two suggestions: Ellen Spencer Mussey and Emma Gillett, who worked together to start a Woman's Law Class in Washington D.C. in 1896. After their graduates were not considered for admission to local law schools, they eventually founded the Washington College of Law, the first law school in the world founded by women. We try to avoid spoilers in the 1912 Project, but Taft did not take the paper's advice. It would be another 69 years until a woman would be sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice.

Anything for Jennings Can we have a moment for the passing of John H. Kidney? We don't know much about him aside from the items that ran in The Day Book and the Pittsburgh Gazette-Times on Sunday. As the latter puts it, Kidney, of Stamford, Conn., "gained some notice by vowing when William Jennings Bryan was first nominated for president" (that would be 1896) "that he would not cut his beard or hair until Mr. Bryan should be seated in the White House." Bryan lost in 1896. And again in 1900. And yet again, to Taft, in 1908. Still, as The Day Book writes, "John stuck to his oath until his hair hung down his back to his waist, and he had to tie up his beard to keep it off the ground." Last year (as the Pittsburgh paper puts it) or a few weeks (as The Day Book has it), "he repented of his bargain and had both hair and beard sheared." They add, "His family say his death was caused by his bitter grief and disappointment at not having kept his vow."

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