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Chapter 23

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Woodrow Wilson

Josephus Daniels

in the
Greenwood Press edition,
New York, 1971

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 25
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p266  Chapter XXIV
Re-elected to the Presidency

Pauline Revere rode out of the West, bringing victory — The hyphen issue loomed large — Wilson scorned disloyal vote — "He kept us out of war" — Hughes indulged in petty criticisms — Threatened railroad strike averted

"If you think too much about being re-elected, it is very difficult to be worth re-electing." — Wilson

The year 1916 was critical in the political life of Woodrow Wilson. In the election of 1914, the bulk of the voters who had joined the Progressive party in 1912, gave their suffrage to Republican nominees. This was in the face of the fact that their representatives in Congress had supported most of the measures of reform and progress initiated by Wilson and approved by the platforms of both the Democratic and Progressive parties. The big Democratic majority of 1912 had shrunk to a bare majority after the 1914 election. Wilson found 290 Democrats and 127 Republicans in the House, and 51 Democrats and 45 Republicans in the Senate when he stood up to deliver his first oral message in 1913. When he came to the same duty in 1915, there was a Democratic majority of only 33 in the House, though the majority in the Senate remained the same as in 1913. This presaged what followed, a close election in 1916. The result showed that the Progressive party had lost its representation in Congress. Would it  p267 be a factor at all in 1916? That question was debated, but when the Republican and Progressive National Conventions were announced to be held in Chicago at the same time, it was accepted that there was to be a merger. Still there were many Progressives who had no mind to return to the Republican party. This element demanded that Roosevelt accept a re-nomination and carry on the fight. In an enthusiastic, but not otherwise impressive, convention, the Progressives nominated Roosevelt, with John M. Parker of Louisiana as his running mate. Roosevelt declined the nomination to the undoing of the Progressive party, and Parker later took the stump for Wilson. The remarkable organization which, in 1912, had polled 4,119,538 votes, dissolved. The bulk of its Republican member­ship, who had joined it as a revolt against what they regarded as reactionary policies, elected to return to their old party allegiance along with their brilliant leader. The Democrats who had supported Roosevelt likewise returned to their old party. The election of 1916 hung largely upon how the minority, or as they called themselves, "conscience Progressives," would vote in November.

The Republicans nominated Charles Evans Hughes, who had won high place in popular regard as Governor of New York, and who was then serving as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The average prognosticator east of the Mississippi River looked for an easy victory for Hughes. If he could hold the Taft vote, which seemed certain, and if Roosevelt, who gave him support, could bring him the Progressive vote, the election was already won. And he would have been elected but for one thing:

"Oh, East is East, and West is West,

And never the twain shall meet."

 p268  For the first time in a presidential contest the parties felt called upon to stress the doctrine of Americanism. The outstanding slogan had relation to the newly emphasized word "hyphen." Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Wilson joined in their demand that the hyphenated citizen­ship should end. The Republican platform appealed to "all Americans, whether naturalized or not, to prove to the world that we are Americans in thought and in deed, with one loyalty, one hope, one aspiration." It was in these words:

"In 1861 the Republican party stood for the Union. As it stood for the Union of States, it now stands for a united people, true to American ideals, loyal to American tradition, knowing no allegiance except to the Constitution, to the Government and to the flag of the United States. We believe in American policies at home and abroad. Such are our principles, such are our purposes and policies. We close as we began. The times are dangerous and the future is fraught with perils. The great issues of the day have been confused by those charged with the responsibility of power. We appeal to all Americans, whether naturalized or native born, to prove to the world that we are Americans in thought and in deed, with one loyalty, one hope, one aspiration. We call on all Americans to be true to the spirit of America, to the great traditions of their common country, and, above all things, to keep the faith."

The Democratic platform rang out clear and strong, without possibility of being open to any doubtful meaning or any appeal to the un-American policy of "looking two ways" as was possible in the Republican declaration:  p269 "In this day of test, America must show itself not a nation of partisans but a nation of patriots." It made vigorous denunciation of the activities of any agencies that owed first allegiance to any other country. That declaration, in the spirit if not the actual words of Woodrow Wilson, read thus:

"Whoever, actuated by the purpose to promote the interest of a foreign power, in disregard of our own country's welfare or to injure this Government in its foreign relations or cripple or destroy its industries at home, and whoever by arousing prejudices of a racial, religious or other nature creates discord and strife among our people so as to obstruct the wholesome process of unification, is faithless to the trust which the privileges of citizen­ship repose in him and is disloyal to his country. We, therefore, condemn as subversive of this Nation's unity and integrity, and as destructive of its welfare, the activities and designs of every group or organization, political or otherwise, that has for its object the advancement of the interest of a foreign power, whether such object is promoted by intimidating the Government, a political party, or representatives of the people, or which is calculated and tends to divide our people into antagonistic groups and thus to destroy that complete agreement and solidarity of the people and that unity of sentiment and purpose so essential to the perpetuity of the Nation and its free institutions. We condemn all alliances and combinations of individuals in this country, of whatever nationality or descent, who agree and conspire together for the purpose of embarrassing or weakening our Government or of improperly influencing or coercing our public representatives in dealing or negotiating with any foreign power. We charge that such conspiracies among  p270 a limited number exist and have been instigated for the purpose of advancing the interests of foreign countries to the prejudice and detriment of our own country. We condemn any political party which, in view of the activity of such conspirators, surrenders its integrity or modifies its policy."

This was interpreted and intended as a rebuke of the propaganda by German organizations which approved the sinking of the Lusitania and which, backed by the Gore and McLemore resolutions, were in sympathy with the Von Papen and Boy-Ed plots, or ready for the sabotage which, when it appeared, was suppressed only by Wilson's strong measures. It was also aimed at Republicans who were flirting with the leaders of the hyphenated voters. Always Wilson separated the loyal Americans born in other countries from those who loved some other nation and served it more faithfully than the nation that gave them home and sustenance. "We do not wish," he said at Arlington on May 30, "men to forget their mothers and fathers, their forbears, running back through long, laborious generations," and he added the criticism of "men who have allowed their old ardor for another nationality to overthrow their ardor for the nationality to which they have given their new and voluntary allegiance." Emphasizing the same truth in his Flag Day speech (June 14), he uttered this indictment and condemnation: "There is disloyalty active in the United States, and it must be absolutely crushed."

He arraigned the disloyal who poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life; who have "sought to bring the authority and good name of our Government into contempt, to destroy our industries wherever they thought it effective for their vindictive  p271 purposes," and to "debase our politics to the uses of foreign intrigue."

In his speech of acceptance Wilson had said: "I neither seek the favor nor fear the displeasure of the small alien element amongst us which put loyalty to any foreign power before loyalty to the United States." Later as the campaign progressed, Wilson stressed that position. A few weeks before the election, after Maine had gone Republican and the New Jersey primaries presaged a Republican victory in November, Jeremiah O'Leary, who had been vicious in his denunciation of Wilson, wrote the President an offensive letter. As soon as he saw the letter, Mr. Wilson made this answer:

"I would feel deeply mortified to have you or anybody like you vote for me. Since you have access to many disloyal Americans and I have not, I will ask you to convey this message to them."

Never had more scorn been compressed in so few words. That bold rebuke was warmly approved. It was what hunters call "a gut shot." It electrified the country and emphasized the issue Wilson kept to the front, to the confusion of those who were trying to carry water on both shoulders. It was one more evidence that Wilson never trimmed, never evaded, never permitted his position to be clouded. He hit from the shoulder!

The Democrats in the beginning placed their claim for Wilson's re-election mainly upon the record of achievement in domestic policies and upon their Big Brother attitude toward Mexico. The latter probably had been assailed with the harshest condemnation by the Republicans in their platform, but without presenting any concrete Mexican plan of their own. The Democrats also asked for the support of the country upon Wilson's policy  p272 of neutrality with insistence upon the protection of American rights on land and sea which the Germans had promised to respect. The war in Europe and the threat of hyphenism at home swallowed up all other issues. As the campaign progressed, the hyphen issue and the question of America's future duty toward the World War became paramount. People paid no heed to the criticisms leveled by Mr. Hughes at the men and measures of the Wilson administration. They paid little, if any, more to the Democratic story of the reform measures Wilson had put in operation. It is safe to say that by October these matters, which seemed so important when letters and speeches of acceptance were being framed, were forgotten by the voters. In the East the feeling that America must enter the World War had been strong from the day of the sinking of the Lusitania. Many had been held back from advocacy of declaring war by the promises Wilson extorted that the men guilty should be punished and acts of destruction on the sea should end. But the feeling that America should enter the war against Germany was strong and growing. However, it was far from compelling and no considerable number of Congressmen had sought to commit the country to war. In the main, the sentiment on the Atlantic seaboard was critical of Wilson. Hughes made no promise to go in, so that no direct issue was made there. Roosevelt, who was opposing Wilson more than he was supporting Hughes, wished America to join forces with the Allies. Candidate Hughes contented himself with criticism of Wilson without a clear-cut policy of either going in or staying out. The Republican platform had declared: "We desire peace, the peace of justice and right, and believe in maintaining a strict and honest neutrality between the belligerents in the great  p273 war in Europe." It aimed this dart at Wilson: "We believe that the peace and neutrality, as well as the dignity and influence of the United States, cannot be preserved by shifty expedients, by phrase-making, by performances in language, or by attitudes ever changing in an effort to secure groups of voters." What would the Republican party do if given power? It promised "a firm, consistent and courageous policy" of — what? It did not say, except such as had "always been maintained by Republican Presidents." Nothing more, except "we believe in the pacific settlement of international disputes, and favor the establishment of a world court for the purpose."

In the West, where the sentiment to enter the European war was much less than on the Atlantic seaboard, Wilson's policy was more generally approved. In fact, the prevailing sentiment was strongly against entrance into the World War. Indeed, it was so strong that "he kept us out of war" became a slogan, obtaining its inspiration in the keynote address of Governor Martin H. Glynn, temporary chairman of the Convention that renominated Wilson and Marshall. In that address, referring to the policy of neutrality and insistence upon American rights, Governor Glynn was given long applause when he said:

This policy may not satisfy those who revel in destruction and find pleasure in despair. It may not satisfy the fire-eater or the swashbuckler, but it does satisfy the mothers of the land at whose hearth and fireside no jingoistic war has placed an empty chair. It does satisfy the daughters of this land from whom bluster and brag has sent no loving brother to the dissolution of the grave. It does satisfy the fathers of this land and  p274 the sons of this land who will fight for our flag and die for our flag when reason primes the rifle, when honor draws the sword, when justice breathes a blessing on the standard they uphold."

The slogan, "He kept us out of war," so generally used in the 1916 campaign, was not of Wilson's making. He wished peace, but in every discussion of what the future held in store, he made it clear that the issue of peace or war was not in his keeping.

During the campaign, except for a few short trips to the West and his final speech at Long Branch, Mr. Wilson remained at Shadow Lawn, N. J., while M. R. Hughes spoke in all parts of the country. Every Saturday afternoon Wilson delivered an address from his porch, dealing in his own telling way with every issue that arose. The country was surprised at the rather petty criticisms with which Mr. Hughes started his campaign. Mr. Wilson's only comment on the criticisms were: "If you will give that gentleman rope enough he will hang himself. He has forgotten many things since he closeted himself on the bench and he will soon find himself out of touch with the spirit of the nation. His speeches are nothing more or less than blank cartridges and the country, unless I mistake the people very much, will place a true assessment upon them." That expressed his real sentiment and when he was in a fight Wilson had a way of saying what he thought, even if it had a sting. The vicious and petty pin-pricks of Hughes justified an answer in kind. As the campaign progressed, however, Mr. Hughes discarded the advice of small partisans and discussed larger issues and more ably and pitched appeals upon the questions presented in his platform. But he was hazy at what he would do if elected. Mr. Wilson's campaign speeches were among his best,  p275 always bold and on the offensive. He charged and never was on the defensive. In September the threatened railroad strike called for action. Wilson met it with customary directness, secured the passage of the Adamson law, prevented a break-down of transportation, and confounded those who thought his courageous course would defeat him.

If, however, the two distinguished candidates in the main observed the amenities, so much cannot be said for many of their partisans. It is perhaps true that no campaign in the history of the country has been quite so marked by viciousness, bitterness and invective. All the elements of hate and misrepresentation were brought into play. While most leading Democrats in the East looked toward November with apprehension, Wilson looked toward it with both confidence and philosophy. He never doubted the verdict of the people. If it was not right today, it would be right tomorrow. So he slept soundly the night before the election. He always declared he played for the verdict of history.

The election of 1916 was one in which both parties celebrated victory. By nine o'clock on the night of election day it was apparent that the normally pivotal states — New York, Indiana, Connecticut and New Jersey — had gone for Hughes. The great newspapers supporting Wilson conceded the election of Hughes, who was congratulated. He went to sleep believing he was the President-elect. Wilson sent to sleep believing he had been defeated. The morrow was to tell another story. Westward the course of pivotal states had taken flight. Ohio had gone for Wilson and so had Kansas. It looked as if Minnesota and California and practically every state west of the Mississippi had voted the same way. The  p276 next few days were hectic. Minnesota swung to Hughes by a few hundred. The West had elected Wilson if he had won the California electoral vote. It hung in the balance. The count in Los Angeles was provokingly slow. Suspicious Democratic watchers in that city kept vigil over every uncounted box. Armed and vigilant they feared they might be tampered with. They remembered 1876 and feared they might again lose the Presidency by a narrow margin. The country watched and waited. The final count gave California to Wilson by a majority of 3,777. The stories of the victory was epitomized in Rollin Kirby's cartoon in the World, — a young woman on horseback called Pauline Revere riding from the sunset to the national Capital. The result was accepted and Wilson was happy that his countrymen had understood and trusted him. His electoral vote was 277 to 254 for Hughes and his popular majority over Hughes was 568,822. With the impressive vote of 9,116,296, the largest vote ever given to a President up to that election, he faced the future with full knowledge of the responsibilities, imposed upon him. His first act was to keep his organization intact by writing to the members of his Cabinet appreciation of their co‑operation and asking them to go with him into the larger duties of the new term.

What did it hold in store — Peace or War?

"I pray God I may be given the wisdom and the prudence to do my duty in the true spirit of this great people" was the prayer in his second inaugural as he plead for American solidarity in these words: "United alike in the conception of our duty and in the high resolve to perform it in the face of all men, let us dedicate ourselves to the great task to which we must now set our hand."

Dedication was renewed.

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