Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Our All-American Aliens

From 1907 to 1931, an American woman would lose her citizenship if she married a non-American man, taking the husband’s nationality instead — even if she’d never visited the country in question or spoke the language.

This 1922 New York Times Magazine article explained the situation: 

Few people realize that there is in this country a group of individuals born here of native stock, many of whom have never left the shores of the U.S.A., even for a Cook’s tour, and who are, nevertheless, aliens. They are classified as such in the census returns. They cannot vote. They cannot take the civil service examinations. They cannot fill municipal, state, or federal positions. If they left this country it might be difficult for them to return. Some of them may not have moved from the village of their birth. They are indeed as American as the president himself, and yet overnight they have become German, Austrian, English, Russian, Italian, French, or Swedish.

No similar rules applied vice versa to American men who married non-citizen women.

Although the Supreme Court upheld the law’s constitutionality in 1915’s MacKenzie v. Hare, after women gained the right to vote nationwide in 1920, the loss of citizenship was being felt more acutely. In September 1922, a few months after this February 1922 article, Congress enacted the Cable Act which partially reversed the rules, though still leaving several exemptions in place allowing some married women to lose their U.S. citizenship upon marrying a foreigner. The law would be fully overturned in 1931.

 

Our All-American Aliens (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 26, 1922

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

February 27th, 2022 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Politics

Free Union of Hughes and Harding

After President Warren G. Harding publicly contradicted his Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes on an issue related to Japan, rumors swirled of bad blood between the two men:

Why should Mr. Harding interpret the pact one way when Mr. Hughes had more than once interpreted it the other way, unless the president wished to rebuke the overweening ambition of his secretary?

Clinton Gilbert, author of 1921’s The Mirrors of Washington, disputed the idea.

Mr. Harding’s administration is not a personal government. There is room in it for a Cabinet officer who achieves more prominence than the president… They must get the treaties through the Senate by mutual applause. They must stand hand in hand before the country when it votes next fall.

It’s hard to claim that Hughes was “more prominent than the president,” although he had additionally previously been both a Supreme Court justice and the 1916 Republican presidential nominee.

Yet Hughes was never fired nor did he ever resign for interpersonal reasons, and indeed served out the remainder of Harding’s short-lived presidency until Harding’s death from a heart attack in August 1923. Hughes continued to serve under Calvin Coolidge through the remainder of Harding’s would-be first term.

If you want to see actually bad blood between a president and a Secretary of State, it’s hard to beat Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson:

 

Free Union of Hughes and Harding (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 22, 1922

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

January 23rd, 2022 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Politics

The Un-Solemn Irish Free State

A new country was created in December 1921: the Irish Free State. This article asked whether it might become “the first demonstration of government with a sense of humor.” Instead, the country was almost immediately plunged into civil war.

Whatever the Irish Free State does, it will not be the usual or conventional thing. A Government with imagination and a sense of humor, if such a thing can be conceived in a world in which Government is the last refuge of pomposity, invariable custom, and solemn twaddle, ought to be competent as well as infinitely diverting. Think of the gorgeous nonsense it could slough off, the paralyzing precedents, the ponderous pretenses.

About that.

The country earned its independence from the United Kingdom in December 1921, but within months — starting in June 1922 — the nascent country plunged into an internecine civil war between pro-independence and anti-independence forces. The pro-independence forces won, although the country only lasted until 1937, when the Irish Free State adopted a new constitution and became “Ireland” that we all know and love today.

The Un-Solemn Irish Free State (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 25, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

December 23rd, 2021 at 9:46 am

Posted in Overseas,Politics

The League and the Washington Conference

As the first multinational arms control conference in history approached in fall 1921, this preview article asked:

Will the spirit that defeated the work of Mr. Wilson [the U.S. Senate’s failure to ratify the country’s entry into the nascent League of Nations] also defeat the plans of Mr. Harding? After the disillusionment and reaction that followed the armistice [which ended World War I], can public opinion once more be raised to a level of clarity and strength that will make partisan issues and personal interests subservient to the welfare of the whole human race?

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, was yes. Or rather, it was yes… for a time.

The Washington Naval Conference would be attended by representatives of nine nations — Belgium, Britain, China, France, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Portugal, and the U.S. — and result in three major arms control treaties.

However, the treaties were not renewed and ultimately expired in 1936. World War II started in 1939, with U.S. involvement beginning in late 1941. It’s unlikely that the treaties would have prevented World War II even if they’d remained in effect, though, since Germany was not a party to the agreements.

 

The League and the Washington Conference (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 18, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

September 17th, 2021 at 1:01 pm

Next in Power to Harding

Ironically, this 1921 New York Times Magazine profile called Charles G. Dawes “the most powerful man, excepting the president, in Washington today” four years before he actually became vice president.

At the time, Dawes was the first director of the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Budget, now known as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). No, he wasn’t the Treasury Secretary, a position which itself would raise some eyebrows if called the second-most powerful position in D.C. He was the head of a bureau within the Treasury Department.

Of course, it wasn’t Dawes’ position which merited him that superlative, but the man himself.

In part, the power Mr. Dawes has achieved is due to his own robust courage and vigor. He came reluctantly from a bank presidency to what he term “an ossified haymor,” and he came on the express stipulation that what he said had to go. President Harding agreed to that condition, and has stood by the agreement with a mild persistence which even his admirers had not suspected before he took the Executive chair.

(A haymow is the part of a barn where hay is stored. Presumably that word was much more commonly known back in the comparatively agricultural days of 1921.)

Dawes, this article claims, helped balance the federal budget.

As a result, the United States is now living within its income, and is spending actually less than Congress has authorized. Within three weeks after taking office Mr. Dawes was able to announce a saving of more than a hundred millions of dollars out of the appropriations… It is not necessary to set down here a detailed catalog of his economies, but some of the things he has done may be chronicled as indicating the remarkable power he wields. They indicate power, because Washington said at the outset they couldn’t be done.

It’s unclear how much this was actually Dawes’ doing. According to historical statistics from the OMB, the federal government ran a deficit in 1917, 1918, and 1919 during World War I, but then it ran a suplus in 1920 — the year before Dawes took office.

Dawes would go on to become the ostensible second-most powerful person in Washington in 1925, when he served as vice president for Calvin Coolidge. During the next four years, Dawes and Coolidge became increasingly distant, even publicly taking opposing stances on a farm bill. Coolidge didn’t run for president in 1928 and neither did Dawes, though he did serve for that year’s eventual winner Herbert Hoover as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom.

 

 

Next in Power to Harding (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 4, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

September 2nd, 2021 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Politics

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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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

June 27th, 2021 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Books,History,Politics

Enjoying the Presidency

A few months into office in 1921, Warren Harding had returned fun to the White House, resurrecting the Easter Egg Roll, the presidential tradition of throwing the baseball season’s opening pitch, and corresponding with letter writers on apolitical topics.

The Easter Egg Roll had been cancelled in 1918 due to wartime egg shortages, but President Woodrow Wilson hadn’t bring it back in 1919 or 1920 either.

It was characteristic, also, that [Harding] should order restored the ancient custom of staging an egg-rolling contest on the White House grounds on the Monday following Easter Sunday. He frankly enjoyed watching the children at play and observed the pleasure of the crowds obtained in the opportunity of viewing the White House at close range.

After William Howard Taft began the opening day ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910, it continued every year through 1916, but Wilson again suspended the tradition from 1917-20.

And [Harding] enjoys a baseball game — in fact, he may be called a fan. He agreed to open the American League season at Washington by tossing the first ball out upon the diamond, not solely because it was a thing which he was expected to do, but because he wanted to have a good time at the game. He even kept a box score, following each play and joining in the applause. He didn’t just hurry to the ball park, look on for a few minutes, and then hurry away. He stayed to the bitter end.

Harding also corresponded with letters writers who wrote him on less-than-serious matters. 12-year-old John D. Wackerman wanted Harding to attend a ball that would raise money for a local swimming pool. Harding deemed this worthy of presidential attention.

My dear John:

I received your letter this morning, saying that the boys were very much disappointed because they had heard I could not attend the ball in the interest of your swimming pool fund. I am exceedingly glad you wrote to me about this, John, because I do not want the boys to think I am not interested in their getting a swimming pool. I have used swimming pools myself, in my time, and there are one or two swimming pools in the creek out near Caledonia, Ohio, that I would like to get into again right now, if it were possible.

You tell the boys that I hope the ball will raise all the money that is needed to provide the pool, and that if some of you will come around to the White House with some tickets, I will buy some, whether I can attend or not.

Yours for the Swimming Pool,

Warren G. Harding

Sure enough, Wackerman visited the White House and Harding gave him a $50 bill — plus Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon chipped in an extra $20.

Others among the more “fun” national leaders have continued the tradition of responding to children’s letters on barely-political subjects, from Ronald Reagan’s note to a seventh grader who requested FEMA assistance after his mom declared his bedroom a disaster area, to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s letter to an 11-year-old girl who requested funds for dragon research.

 

 

Enjoying the Presidency (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 8, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

May 9th, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life,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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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

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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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

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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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

January 24th, 2021 at 8:01 am

Posted in History,Politics