In November 1916 the American presidential campaign draws to a close with speeches by President Woodrow Wilson and former President Theodore Roosevelt at Cooper Union, by Wilson and his Republican challenger Charles Evans Hughes at Madison Square Garden (still in those days on Madison Square), and by President Wilson at his New Jersey estate Shadow Lawn. After the election the outcome is unclear for days, but eventually is decided in favor of Wilson when the final tally in California narrowly goes his way. Jeanette Rankin, a Republican, becomes the first woman elected to the United States Congress, but the Democrats retain control of both houses. Meanwhile the World War continues in France, on the Isonzo River, in the Balkans and in Salonika. Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary dies in Vienna at the age of eighty-six. Germany proclaims a new Kingdom of Poland. The British and the French fight the last battles of the Somme offensive and at Verdun. The Federal Reserve Board warns its member banks not to buy unsecured British notes.
In the United States on November 7, President Woodrow Wilson became the first Democratic president since Andrew Jackson to win reelection. The electoral vote was 277 for Wilson and 254 for his challenger, former Supreme Court Justice and New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes. The final result was uncertain until California’s vote count was completed days after the election, giving Wilson the state’s thirteen electoral votes by a popular vote margin of less than 4,000 out of almost a million votes cast. California Governor Hiram Johnson, running for the Senate, won his race in a landslide; Johnson’s strained relationship with Hughes, highlighted by Hughes’s awkward visit to California in August, might have cost Hughes the state and the presidency. (See the August 1916 installment of this blog.)
The presidential campaign continued down to the wire except for the Sunday and Monday before the election, which both candidates observed as days of rest. On Thursday, November 2, the president made his only visit of the campaign to New York City, a whirlwind tour that began at 9:00 when the presidential train arrived at Grand Central Station after an overnight journey from Buffalo and included speeches at the Waldorf Astoria that afternoon and at Madison Square Garden and Cooper Union in the evening. Thirty thousand Democrats led by Tammany Hall Sachems paraded down Fifth Avenue, and thousands more besieged Madison Square Garden in an attempt to get a glimpse of the president. The crowd defeated all attempts by the police to exercise control, forcing the president and his wife to enter the Garden through a fire escape on the 27th Street side of the building. Samuel Seabury, the Democratic candidate for governor; Alfred E. Smith, the Sheriff of New York County who was the grand marshal of the parade; Charles F. Murphy, the leader of Tammany Hall; and Mrs. Edward M. House, the wife of presidential adviser “Colonel” House, were among those unable, at least at first, to get into the building. From Madison Square, the president motored to Cooper Union, where he gave another speech and was greeted afterward by a crowd of some 15,000 in Cooper Square. As he stood on the outdoor platform, the crowd strained forward to hear him over the sound of passing elevated trains and other vehicles, challenging the police who were trying to maintain a clear space in front of the platform. After brief remarks, the president boarded the presidential yacht, the Mayflower, for a leisurely cruise back to Shadow Lawn.
Cooper Union was the site the next day of former President Roosevelt’s last speech of the campaign. He pulled no punches in attacking Wilson’s foreign policy, telling his audience that it was the misfortune of the United States, when it needed a Washington or a Lincoln, that it had instead been given a Buchanan. He said that just as the country had redeemed itself in 1860 by exchanging Buchanan for Lincoln, it should exchange Wilson for Hughes this year. Taking aim at the president’s policy with regard to Mexico and Germany, Roosevelt employed the metaphor of Shadow Lawn, the president’s residence on the New Jersey shore:
“There should be shadows enough at Shadow Lawn: the shadows of men, women and children who have risen from the ooze of the ocean bottom and from graves in foreign lands, the shadows of the helpless whom Mr. Wilson did not dare to protect lest he might have to face danger; the shadows of babies gasping pitifully as they sank under the waves; the shadows of women outraged and slain by bandits; the shadows of Boyd and Adair and their troopers who lay in the Mexican desert, the black blood crusted around their mouths, and their dim eyes looking upward, because President Wilson had sent them to do a task, and had then shamefully abandoned them to the mercy of foes who knew no mercy. Those are the shadows proper for Shadow Lawn; the shadows of deeds that were never done; the shadows of lofty words that were followed by no action; the shadows of the tortured dead.”
The former president’s Cooper Union speech played well to his East Coast Republican base, but the force of his rhetoric may have had the opposite effect among the isolationists and pacifists of the Midwest and West, where the election would be decided and where the Democratic Party’s slogan “he kept us out of war” was winning votes for Wilson. In that part of the country, Roosevelt’s eagerness for America to join the fight was more alarming than inspiring.
At Shadow Lawn on Saturday, November 4, President Wilson delivered his final speech of the campaign. He attacked the Republicans for their stand on tariffs and immigration, and said that in foreign affairs their rhetoric was “spreading tinder in this country when sparks without number were blowing over from this terrible conflagration.” He accused Republicans of “seeking to make party capital out of things which, if not settled wisely, might bring this country at any moment into this world conflict which is devastating Europe.”
That evening at Madison Square Garden, it was Hughes’s turn. Before entering the Garden, he reviewed a parade of thousands of supporters marching up Fifth Avenue, cheered by thousands more standing along the line of march. The crowd was as large and enthusiastic as the one that greeted President Wilson two days earlier, but was relatively orderly and gave the police little trouble. Inside the Garden, Hughes gave his last speech of the campaign, speaking in favor of patriotism, preparedness, and a protective tariff, and predicting a “march to a triumphant victory.” He said “the way to preserve peace is to deserve respect,” and insisted that “it is idle for anyone to say that a criticism of the policies of the present administration implies either a desire for war or a tendency to war. We propose that this nation shall stand erect before the world, … exhibiting firmness and consistency and indomitable spirit which will show that we mean what we say and we say what we mean.”
Both candidates spent Sunday and Monday resting quietly with their families, Wilson at Shadow Lawn and Hughes at the Hotel Astor. On Monday Wilson played golf and Hughes went for a long walk and to the theater in the evening. On Election Day Wilson went to Princeton to vote and Hughes voted in Manhattan. That evening, hundreds of thousands of people crowded the streets of New York gazing up at bulletins projected on screens by the several newspapers in the City. Hughes, whose hotel faced Times Square and the New York Times building, watched the crowds cheering his name as it became clear that he had won New York’s forty-five electoral votes by a substantial margin. The early editions of newspapers, including the New York Times, declared Hughes the victor, and when Hughes saw a sign that read “U.S. Tires,” he quipped that the next day they might be able to complete that sentence by adding the words “of Wilson.” By the next morning, however, the issue was in doubt, and the final tally gave most of the western states to Wilson (the South, of course, was conceded to Wilson from the beginning). Two weeks elapsed before the final count was completed and Hughes sent Wilson a telegram conceding the election. When he finally received the telegram, Wilson told his brother he was glad to see it. “It was a little moth-eaten when it got here,” he said, “but quite legible.
The Sixty-fifth Congress will include the first woman elected to that body. The State of Montana, which adopted woman suffrage in 1914, has two seats in the House of Representatives, both of which are elected at large. This month it elected Republican Jeanette Rankin to fill one of its House seats, bucking a Democratic sweep of the other statewide offices as well as the state’s three presidential electors. In the Senate, the Democrats retained their majority but their margin slipped from 54-41 (with one vacancy) to 51-45. In the House the Democrats, who enjoyed a 230-196 majority (with eight third party members: six Progressive, one Socialist and one Prohibition) in the Sixty-fourth Congress, now have fewer members than the Republicans (213-215) but are likely to retain control of the chamber with the support of third party members (three Progressive, one Socialist and one Prohibition). Democratic Representative Champ Clark of Missouri will probably remain Speaker.
Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary died on November 21 in the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. Born August 18, 1830, Franz Joseph became Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary in 1848 and presided over the creation of the dual monarchy in 1867. The assassination of his nephew and heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 led to Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum and subsequent declaration of war against Serbia, triggering the series of events at the end of July and beginning of August that plunged Europe into war (see the July and August 1914 installments of this blog). Prior to being stricken with the pneumonia that took his life, the emperor’s attention was focused on his army’s prosecution of the war, most recently turning back the Russian offensive in the Carpathians and supporting German General August von Mackensen’s offensive in Romania. The new emperor is Franz Joseph’s grandnephew, Archduke Charles.
In an effort to achieve a breakthrough at the Somme before winter sets in, the British Army mounted a major offensive at the Ancre River, a tributary of the Somme, on November 13. The infantry attack was preceded by an enormous seven-day artillery barrage, and as it advanced across no-man’s land it was preceded by a “creeping” artillery barrage. The offensive ended on November 18 after capturing the villages of Beaumont Hamel, Beaucourt and St. Pierre Divion, not far from where the first battles of the Somme offensive took place in early July. Allied losses were approximately 22,000 men compared to the Germans’ 45,000.
At Verdun, the French retook Fort Vaux on November 2. In a statement announcing their abandonment of the fort, the German Army said that the sacrifices involved in continuing to occupy the fort in the face of intense French artillery fire were no longer justified. Along with Fort Douaumont, Fort Vaux had presented a formidable obstacle to the German attack on Verdun, but once occupied by the Germans both forts were less suitable for defending against attacks from the other direction. The Germans therefore removed or destroyed the forts’ armaments and withdrew to less vulnerable positions.
The Ninth Battle of the Isonzo River began with an attack by the Italian Army on November 1. It was designed to secure the Italian positions in and around the town of Gorizia, but it bogged down in mud and was called off after three days of modest gains and heavy losses on both sides. Nine thousand Austrians were taken prisoner. In Salonika, an Allied attack succeeded in driving the Bulgarians across the Serbian border and entering Monastir.on November 19.
Germany and Austria-Hungary issued a joint declaration on November 5 proclaiming the establishment of a supposedly independent Kingdom of Poland, comprising the German-occupied portions of formerly Russian Poland. No provision was made, however, for Polish self-government; Poland will continue to be governed by its German governor-general, Hans Hartwig von Beseler.
The Federal Reserve Board supervises the Federal Reserve System created by legislation enacted in the United States less than three years ago. On November 27 it warned American banks to be cautious about accepting unsecured notes issued by nations at war. The Board urges banks to “pursue a policy of keeping themselves liquid” and “proceed with much caution in locking up their funds in long-term obligations or in investments which are short-term in form or name but which, either by contract or by force of circumstances, may in the aggregate have to be renewed until normal conditions return.” The Board is concerned that “liquid funds of our banks, which should be available for short credit facilities to our merchants, manufacturers and farmers, would be exposed to the danger of being absorbed for other purposes to a disproportionate degree, especially in view of the fact that many of our banks and trust companies are already carrying substantial amounts of foreign obligations and of acceptances which they are under agreement to renew.” Member banks, therefore, are cautioned that the Board “does not regard it in the interest of the country at this time that they invest in foreign treasury bills of this character.”
This is a serious development for the Allies. The war is costing Britain, the Allies’ purchasing agent, five million pounds a day, forty percent of which is spent in the United States. Last month an interdepartmental committee reported that Britain would be unable to provide collateral for the extension of further credit after March of next year. In a meeting on November 30, the British Cabinet considered a recommendation to abandon the gold standard, but decided instead to delay the issuance of additional Treasury notes and advise the military that it must restrict the purchase of war supplies.
November 1916 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
American Review of Reviews, December 1916 and January 1917
New York Times, November 1917
Books and Articles:
Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Third Year of the Great War: 1916
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
Patrick Devlin, Too Proud to Fight: Woodrow Wilson’s Neutrality
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson’s War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume III: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916
Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Paul Jankowski, Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War
Keith Jeffrey, 1916: A Global History
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, The Somme
Merlo J. Pusey, Charles Evans Hughes
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I
The following is reprinted from the Centennial Countdown to the Great War blog published by Dennis Cross. Read the original post and access an archive of previous posts at:
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