Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Thirty Years of International Copyright

The Chace Act of 1891 gave copyright to non-U.S. works in return for international copyright protections for American authors. On the law’s 30th anniversray, Brander Matthews wrote that he considered the law a smashing success.

It remains the least adequate [such law] now in force of any of the civilized nations; but, improvable as it may be, it marked a long stride in advance and it did what it was meant to do; it put an end to the despoiling of the foreign writer in the United States and of the American writer in foreign countries. In fact, it has accomplished its purpose so completely that the present generation of readers has no knowledge of the conditions which it terminated.

The law, nicknamed after Sen. Jonathan Chace (R-RI) and which had been lobbied by the likes of Mark Twain and Little Women author Louisa May Alcott, originally granted copyright to Great Britain and its colonies, plus France, Belgium and Switzerland. More than 10 other countries were added by 1921, including Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, the German Empire, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Spain.

Today the U.S. has reciprocal copyright agreements in place with most, though not all, other countries. Here’s a complete list from the U.S. Copyright Office: https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ38a.pdf

Prior to 1891, though, the situation was quite different, as Matthews explained.

Before July 1, 1891, a book published in London or Paris could be reprinted by anybody or by any number of bodies in New York without the permission of the British or French author and without any payment to him. The novels of Scott and Dickens, Thackeray and George Eliot, Hugo and Dumas, the essays of Macaulay and Taine, the scientific writings of Spencer and Huxley and Tyndall, the poems of Tennyson and Browning, passed out of the control of their authors as soon as they were put on sale in Europe.

It gets worse.

And the novels and lyrics of American writers were almost — although not quite — as unprotected in England. Hundreds of thousands of copies of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” were sold in Great Britain, for which Mrs. Stowe did not receive a penny. Thousands of copies of Longfellow’s poems were issued by English publishers; and I heard Lowell say once that all the reward Longfellow had reaped from them was the gift of a game pie, sent to him across the Atlantic by a kind-hearted and appreciative London published.

The effects of the law were immediate. According to The Development of the International Book Trade, 1870-1895:
Tangled Networks by Alison Rukavina, “Before 1891, 70 percent of the books published in the United States were of foreign origin; after 1891, the figure was reversed, and 70 percent were by native authors.”

 

Thirty Years of International Copyright (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 26, 1921

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June 27th, 2021 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Books,History,Politics

Martin Van Buren’s Autobiography

Martin van Buren’s autobiography wasn’t published until 1920: 60 years after his death and 80 years after he was last president. That’s like if FDR’s or Herbert Hoover’s memoirs were only published now.

80 years ago in 1941, FDR was president. Excluding JFK, the president who died closest to 60 years ago (of natural causes) was Herbert Hoover in 1964.

Van Buren’s autobiography, with the captivating title The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren, is now in the public domain and available to read in full here:

https://archive.org/details/cu31924024892709

This New York Times Magazine review in March 1921 gave the book a stirring review:

The story of the fight over the United States Bank was never so clearly told, and in Van Buren’s hands it becomes a matter of absorbing interest. But that may be said of everything he writes.

It is a most remarkable book, a great autobiography despite its incompleteness. It covers an immense amount of ground, including the early days of Tammany Hall, and is embellished with the shrewdest and most thought-provoking commentaries on life and politics. He had a great reputation for common sense when he was alive, and his memoir proves that if anything it was underestimated.

You be the judge.

Here (and copied below) is the actual final paragraph of the book. To be fair, death stopped van Buren from writing further, so perhaps this should not be judged among the great endings in literary history. Still, if you can make it through this entire paragraph, you deserve a prize.

This charge which was also submitted to in silence, was not specifically applied to in silence, was not specifically applied to the $10,000 debt at the mother bank; but the extreme probability that such an occurrence could have happened at the Boston branch; and its being so much in harmony with the other transactions by which the advance of the ten or fifteen thousand dollars, obtained from Mr. Biddle at his country seat was characterized leaves scarcely a doubt that such was their meaning — and if so, and if the statements were well founded, we have here the explanation of Mr. Biddle’s persistent silence upon the subject. But be that as it may, one thing is, I fear, morally certain, if the notes and professed securities of the bank were reserved from the sale to the manufacturers of its archives by the ton, as waste paper, before referred to, have been preserved, and but a tithe of the reports of the heavy losses which that institution sustained from its loans to Mr. Webster, on straw securities, so prevalent at the time of its total failure, and then generally credited, be true, the note that was given for those ten or fifteen thousand dollars, or its representative, equally worthless, will be found amongst them. If so, and without the slightest personal knowledge upon the point, I feel as confident of the fact as I do of my existence, farther explorations of the dusty labyrinth of a defunct bank parlor, to trace the real character of the principal transaction, would seem to be superfluous, and the reader will decide whether, in such an event, farther speculations in regard to the political ethics or official purity of Daniel Webster would be equally useless.

 

Martin Van Buren’s Autobiography (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 13, 1921

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March 11th, 2021 at 10:31 am

Posted in Books,History,Politics

Woodrow Wilson’s Administration: Eight Years of the World’s Greatest History

During Wilson’s last week as president, his reputation was already trending upward, due to blunders by President-elect Harding. As this March 1921 New York Times Magazine article noted:

The President’s unpopularity had been so violently expressed by the election of Nov. 2 that it was bound to be mitigated soon after, and this natural reaction was aided by the failure of the Republican Congress to accomplish anything in the short session and by President-elect Harding’s slowness in deciding among candidates offered for the Cabinet and policies put forward for his attention. As President Wilson prepared to turn over the executive duties to his successor there was already evidence that the American public was returning to a greater appreciation of his services.

Indeed, in C-SPAN’S 2017 survey of historians, Wilson ranked as America’s #11 president; Harding only ranked #40 of 43.

Wilson has certainly slipped a bit, from #6 in 2000, down to #9 in 2009, down again to #11 in 2017. If the survey is ever conducted again, he will almost certainly fall further from that #11 spot, given increasing criticisms of his views on race in recent years. Last year, for example, Princeton University renamed their Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Still, it’s impossible to imagine Wilson ever ranking in the bottom half of presidents. No matter how much historical revisionism drops his rank, he’s in no danger of ranking anywhere close to Harding, whose standing has shifted a few spots over the years but perpetually remained among the bottom five presidents all time.

 

Woodrow Wilson’s Administration: Eight Years of the World’s Greatest History (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 27, 2021

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February 28th, 2021 at 10:31 am

Posted in History,Politics

False Splendor of Past Inaugurals

Ah, the days before microphones. This 1921 article described how “not a dozen men have ever heard a Presidential inaugural address.” That same year, Warren Harding became the first president with loudspeakers at his inauguration.

The people around him do not hear him. The newspaper men have seats nearer than the other invited guests on the platform, but they catch only a detatched word or sentence here or there. Down at their feet, below the platform, they see men with their hands at their ears, straining to catch a word and then giving it up. Perhaps the Vice President and some of the foreign Ambassadors hear the speech, but nobody else does. Having attended every inauguration since and including that of McKinley, I feel sure of my ground in saying that not a dozen men have ever heard a Presidential inaugural address.

As opposed to today, when we can hear presidential inaugurations but often wish we hadn’t.

The 1921 article also noted that the vice president was inaugurated in the Senate chamber, not on the Capitol steps as occurs today. That changed in 1937, during the second inaugural of Franklin D. Roosevelt with Vice President John Nance Garner.

 

False Splendor of Past Inaugurals (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 23, 1921

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January 24th, 2021 at 8:01 am

Posted in History,Politics

The Party of Discontent

Would a third party candidate spoil the 1920 presidential election?

At least three presidential elections in the past three decades alone were very likely altered by third-party candidates:

  1. 1992: Independent candidate Ross Perot earned 19.7 million votes, mostly from Republican George H.W. Bush, likely tipping the election to Democrat Bill Clinton.
  2. 2000: Green Party candidate Ralph Nader earned 2.8 million votes, mostly from Democrat Al Gore, likely tipping the election (particularly the results in Florida) to Republican George W. Bush.
  3. 2016: Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein jointly combined for 5.9 million votes, primarily from Democrat Hillary Clinton (particularly in Stein’s case). Shifting a combined 80,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin would have lost Republican Donald Trump the election.

This 1920 New York Times Magazine article considered the possibility that Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs could throw the election. They drew a comparison to the at-the-time-well-recalled 1892 race:

In one memorable year, 1892, the discontented were chiefly Republicans, and in the West they voted for the Populist candidate, James B. Weaver, while in the East they stayed home in such large numbers as to elect a Democratic President [Grover Cleveland]. In recent years they have voted for Debs, without the slightest regard to his principles and solely by way of protest. This year, thanks to [Farmer–Labor Party presidential nominee Parley] Christensen’s nomination, neither party will be hurt more than the other.

Indeed, neither major party was disproportionately hurt that year. Harding won the election with a commanding 404-127 Electoral College margin and 60.3 percent of the popular vote, while Debs won 3.4 percent and Christensen won 1.0 percent of the popular vote – and neither won any electoral votes. It’s hard to claim that either Debs or Christensen changed the election result.

However, neither Perot, Nader, Johnson, nor Stein won a single electoral vote either, yet are widely considered to have changed the election result. What’s the difference? The close margins of those elections. Since this article was published in 1920, only three different third-party candidates have won so much as a single electoral vote, yet the margins were decisive enough among the two main candidates that none of them proved to be spoilers.

  1. 1924: Progressive Party candidate Robert La Follette won 13 electoral votes, though Calvin Coolidge won a commanding 382-136 Electoral College victory over John W. Davis.
  2. 1948: States’ Rights Democrat (Dixiecrat) candidate Strom Thurmond won 39 electoral votes, though Harry Truman won a commanding 308-139 Electoral College victory over Thomas Dewey. Thurmond likely took more votes away from Truman, meaning Thurmond’s candidacy didn’t change the election result so much as prevent Truman from winning by an even larger margin.
  3. 1968: American Independent Party candidate George Wallace won 46 electoral votes, but in an echo of two decades prior, Wallace’s candidacy didn’t change the election result so much as prevent Richard Nixon from winning by even more than his actual 301-191 Electoral College margin.

(Libertarian Party presidential candidate John Hospers technically won a single electoral vote in 1972, but that was Virginia faithless elector Roger MacBride, who was supposed to vote for Richard Nixon as his state had.)

As for 2020, neither Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen nor Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins appear to be making as much of a splash as their 2016 predecessors, at least so far. And no other candidate has announced who plausibly seems like they could even attain 1 percent of the vote, for now.

 

The Party of Discontent (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 25, 1920

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July 25th, 2020 at 9:01 am

Posted in History,Politics

The Vice Presidency Comes to the Fore

“The two parties in 1920… have both nominated men of Presidential stature for Vice President,” a New York Times article that summer read. Those two men were FDR and Calvin Coolidge, who would both become president. In fact, 1920 is the only year in American history when both major-party vice presidential nominees later became president.

In fact, Franklin D. Roosevelt is one of only two losing vice presidential nominees of a major party to later ascend to the presidency. The other: John Tyler, who lost in 1836 as a Whig Party running mate for Hugh Lawson White, but would later be elected vice president in 1840 on the Whig Party ticket behind William Henry Harrison.

The article also stated: “To find a parallel to the present-day interest in both Roosevelt and Coolidge, one would have to hark back to 1884, when Logan and Hendricks ran for the same office.” Wait, who?

Former Indiana Senator and Governor Thomas Hendricks had previously been the 1876 Democratic vice presidential nominee behind New York Governor Samuel Tilden. The ticket won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. Hendricks was nominated for vice president again in 1884 behind another New York governor, Grover Cleveland. Winning the White House this time, Hendricks only served about eight months before dying unexpectedly of natural causes. The vice presidency remained vacant for the remainder of Cleveland’s term.

Illinois Senator and former Civil War Union Army General John Logan ran as the Republican vice presidential nominee, behind former Maine Senator and former Secretary of State James G. Blaine.

Both Hendricks and Logan are largely forgotten today, neither having served as president — although Washington, D.C. residents know the latter as the namesake of the city’s neighborhood Logan Circle.

 

The Vice Presidency Comes to the Fore: Both Parties Have Broken With Tradition to the Extent of Picking Men of Positive Achievement Well Qualified for High Office (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 11, 1920

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July 11th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in History,Politics

Who’s Who Among Nominees for the Hall of Fame

Of 1920’s seven inductees into NYC’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans, probably only two would be considered household names today: Mark Twain and Patrick Henry.

That year’s honorees feature many names that would stump a modern audience, even a well-educated one. This 2018 New York Times article quoted Cultural Landscape Foundation executive director Charles A. Birnbaum:

The Hall is a monument to “the changing nature of fame itself. That’s one of the reasons it has to endure. That conversation is still going on.”

Here were 1920’s seven inductees:

  1. Mark Twain, the author and humorist most famous for creating the characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and whose quips and witticisms are still quoted today.
  2. Patrick Henry, the Founding Father and Virginia governor most famous for his line “Give me liberty or give me death!”
  3. Roger Williams, the minister who advocated separation of church/state and was an early abolitionist.
  4. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a sculptor who designed prominent statues including of Abraham Lincoln and William Tecumseh Sherman.
  5. Alice Freeman Palmer, the President of Wellesley College and one of the most prominent advocates for women’s education.
  6. William Thomas Green Morton, the first dentist to use ether as an anesthetic. This 2018 New York Times article cited Morton as one of the three most obscure names in the Hall.
  7. James Buchanan Eads, the inventor who constructed the first steel bridge.

The last three names inducted in 1976 were American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and horticulturist Luther Burbank. Nobody has been added since, and the hall has fallen into disrepair.

Who’s Who Among Nominees for the Hall of Fame: Unusual Number of Foreign-Born Candidates Suggested on This Year’s List — Twenty of the Eighty-Nine Names Will be Chosen by Committee Next Fall — The Famous and Less Famous (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 9, 1920

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May 6th, 2020 at 2:21 pm

Posted in History

The Anti-Wilson ‘Mania’

Woodrow Wilson was unpopular near his presidency’s end, but how would he be remembered by history? This 1920 article predicted he’d be remembered well. By 2017, a C-SPAN survey of historians ranked him the 11th-best president.

The 1920 article noted that Wilson was hated by many during his own lifetime, just like Washington and Lincoln… who would ultimately rank #2 and #1 in that same C-SPAN survey.

Indeed, so far as the printed page is concerned, it is hard to match even in the unrestrained public press of today in its treatment of Wilson the brutality, insult and viciousness of the newspaper attacks upon Washington, who, it might be supposed, had so far won the gratitude and admiration of his countrymen as to enshrine him forever in their affection and veneration. As for Lincoln, who preserved the nation which Washington had created, can we match in Washington’s day or in Roosevelt’s day or in Wilson’s day the sneers and contempt which dogged his footsteps until the day of his assassination?

So how would Wilson be remembered by history? The 1920 article predicted his ultimately strong historical reputation fairly accurately:

But if Washington’s one track led to the creation of the nation, and Lincoln’s one track led to its preservation from disunion, and Roosevelt’s one track led to its second preservation by stopping the corruption of its governmental sources — to what terminal point will history say that Wilson’s one track has led? Is it not reasonably probably that when history is written it will concern itself little with but one conclusion, namely, that Wilson was chosen — by God, or, if you please, by fate, or by national evolution — to see to it that the war did not end without the creation of some form of international legal organization around which should revolve, under the leadership of the United States, a bona fide effort to make wars of aggression difficult and unpopular; to combat the fool notion that war is a legitimate, if not a desirable, “out-of-door” sport for civilization, and to make it as unfashionable as public opinion has finally made the duel, the slave trade, the lottery and the drunkard — and that he “delivered the goods”!

That being said, Wilson’s reputation seems to be slipping. C-SPAN’s 2000 survey ranked Wilson #6, then in 2009 down three spots to #9, then in 2017 down another two spots to #11.

In other words, Wilson dropped five spots from 2000 to 2017. That ties Andrew Jackson for the second-largest drop of any president during that span. Rutherford B. Hayes and Grover Cleveland tied for the largest drop, falling six spots each. (Wondering which president improved the most? Ulysses S. Grant, jumping 11 spots.)

 

The Anti-Wilson ‘Mania’: Analyzed by One Who Finds the President as Lonely and Well-Hated as Lincoln in 1862 (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 18, 1920

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April 19th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Future,History,Politics

Nonagenarian Suffragist

Despite the stereotype that the elderly are the age group most opposed to societal progress, a 97-year-old male named Stephen Smith was a strong supporter of women’s voting rights in 1920.

He traced his evolution on the issue to his time at Geneva Medical College in 1847, when Elizabeth Blackwell enrolled as the first women in American history to receive a medical degree. As Smith told it:

Geneva Medical College was made up of the rowdiest lot of young ruffians it has ever been my good fortune to meet. I was one of them, so my saying this is all right… So greatly did they manage to disturb the community, that a petition was signed by the people and submitted to the authorities asking that the college be closed as a public nuisance.

There was a distinct change in the manners of the school from that day. Miss Blackwell, a little Quaker woman, with all the pluck in the world, changed that howling mob of boys into a lot of well-mannered, respectful young men. Not the least of her effect on the school was her influence on the instructors.

This, in turn, prompted Smith to reconsider women’s effects in other previously all-male institutions, such as voting.

My turning suffragist dates back to that period. If one woman without any conscious effort could accomplish that reform in that school of rascals, think what a country of enlightened women can accomplish once they set their minds to it!

The 19th Amendment guaranteed women’s right to vote in August 1920, four months later. Smith would live to see that momentous change, eventually dying in August 1922 at age 99.

 

Nonagenarian Suffragist: Dr. Steven Smith, at the Age of 97, Tells of His Conversion to Women’s Progress (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 11, 1920

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April 8th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in History

Lafayette, Citizen of America

Foreign male heirs of Marquis de Lafayette, the French military officer who led the colonies in Revolutionary War battles, were to be granted Maryland citizenship in perpetuity by a 1784 state law. Would that stand in the federal government’s eyes?

In 1919, when this New York Times article was written, the answer was still unclear — but it was clarified soon enough, based on two cases in 1936 and 1955.

The first was Count René de Chambrun, whose claim was rejected on an individual basis by the State Department. The second was Count Edward Perrone di San Martino, where the State Department officially ruled that any foreign male heir of Lafayette could be only granted honorary citizenship, which didn’t officially count for legal purposes.

Of course, modern audiences know Lafayette best from the insanely fast-rapping portrayal by Daveed Diggs in Hamilton:

Lafayette, Citizen of America: Maryland Legislature Conferred Franchise Upon Him and His Male Heirs Forever — He Rests in American Soil (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 7, 1919

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September 6th, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Posted in History,Politics