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(The UNITED STATES to 1914 – continued)

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The UNITED STATES to 1914 (9 of 11)

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The Taft Years

President Theodore Roosevelt honored his promise not to seek a third term in 1908. He persuaded the Republican Party to nominate William Howard Taft, his close friend and Secretary of War. Taft went along and won the nomination.

Taft's opponent in the general election was the Democrat William Jennings Bryan, who had already run for president twice before. Taft did not like campaigning and did little of it. Bryan ran an aggressive campaign against "government by privilege," his campaign slogan a question: "Shall the People Rule?" Taft pledged his loyalty to the Roosevelt program while his opponent Bryan complained that he was running against two candidates, the western progressive Taft and an eastern conservative Taft.

Taft won 51 percent of the popular vote, Bryan 43 percent. The Socialist candidate, Eugene V Debs, won 1.71 percent, doing best in California, where he won 7.41 of the vote.

The year 1908 was also when Isadora Duncan began dancing, with the middle classes viewing her flimsy dresses and exposed arms and legs as ridiculous and shocking. And in 1908, in Sydney Australia, an American black named Jack Johnson defeated Tommy Burns of Australia for the heavyweight boxing championship of the world – his victory followed by some violence outside the boxing ring.

In 1910, a former American champion, Jim Jeffries, came out of retirement to reclaim the title for the white race. Jack Johnson knocked him out, and a race riot ensued at ringside, followed by race riots across the United States in which nineteen persons died.

Dollar Diplomacy in Latin America

Meanwhile, businesses including banks from the United States were increasing their investments in Latin America. The US share of trade with Latin America was on the rise, and during the decade this created what was called "dollar diplomacy." The Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was still in operation. The United States government believed it had the right to intervene in Latin American for the sake of political stability and financial responsibility or to prevent European intervention in the area. This was supported by a majority of US citizens interested in foreign affairs. The United States was invited into the Dominican Republic to manage the collection of customs revenues, and the US presence discouraged attempts by revolutionaries to overthrow the government there. In 1912 in Nicaragua the US would intervene with money and marines in support of conservatives who overthrew the liberal government of Jose Zelaya, who had been harassing US businessmen – the beginning of what would become a larger intervention in Nicaragua in the coming decade.

More Prosperity

A recession came again in January 1910 and lasted throughout the year, trade and industrial activity falling a little more than 10 percent. In 1911 the US continued its race ahead as an economic power. In 1913 it would be producing 32 percent of the world's manufacturing output, up from 23.6 percent in 1900 and well ahead of Germany at 14.8 percent and Britain at 13.6 percent. America's per capita output would be the highest in the world. note2

The US was a leading exporter of cotton, wheat and other farm products. In the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Paul Kennedy writes:

...the sheer size of the area under cultivation, the efficiency of its farm machinery, and the decreasing costs of transport (because of railways and steamships) made American wheat, corn, pork, beef and other products cheaper than any in Europe. Technologically, leading American firms like International Harvester, Singer, Du Pont, Bell, Colt, and Standard Oil were equal to, or often better than, any in the world, and they enjoyed an enormous domestic market ... which their German, British and Swiss rivals did not. note3

New York City had become the busiest maritime port in the world. It was the country's financial capital, its greatest city, with an elevated urban railway, a city with air conditioning, electrically lit advertisements and after 1912 an electric bulletin board on Times Square. It had the tallest building in the world, the Metropolitan Life Insurance building, at 213.36 meters – a good advertisement, in 1913 to be topped by the Woolworth Building, 241 meters. Its owner wanted to advertise its many department stores across the country.

People abroad recognized the America's rapid growth and top place in material progress, and it recognized the US as the world's wealthiest of nations. Those with money to invest were sending capital pouring into the United States to get in on the action.

Americans who could afford it were traveling to Europe to conduct business to see the sights of the Old World and perhaps a few were hoping to marry into aristocratic European families. From Europe on diesel powered ships in "tourist class" came people with hardly any wealth seeking a better life.

The Titanic

The year 1912 was the year of the sinking of the British liner the RMS Titanic, leaving for her maiden voyage on 10 April 1912 from England's southern coast, at Southampton. The ship's passengers included some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia.

The ship was 882 feet long (6 yards short of three football fields), with a beam of 92 feet (almost as wide as a football field). She carried 2,224 passengers and crew, with enough lifeboats for only 1,178. She stopped at Cherbourg in France and Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland and then headed for New York, cruising at 21 knots (24 mph). On April 14, 20 minutes before midnight, the ship struck an iceberg. Two hours and 40 minutes later the ship broke apart and founder, with more that 1,000 still aboard. Responding to emergency telegraphy, another liner arrived two hours later and rescued an estimated 705 survivors.

Americans and Europeans were shocked. It was described as a lesson in the equality of man with prince and peasant meeting their death together at the "hand of nature." The Chicago Defender editorialized: "The greatest achievements of the day are but tiny toys in comparison with God's own handiwork."

Tax on Incomes

In an address to a joint session of Congress in June 1909, President Taft spoke of a rapidly increasing deficit that could not be paid for with import duties. "New kinds of taxation must be adopted," he said, and he recommended a "graduated inheritance tax as correct in principle and easy of collection." He added that he had become convinced that a great majority of the people of this country are in favor of investing the National Government with power to levy an income tax."

There had been an income tax in the Union during the Civil War, eliminated by Congress in 1872 and revived in 1894. But in 1895 the US Supreme Court declared the income tax unconstitutional because it was not apportioned among the states in conformity with the Constitution. In July 1909, Congress followed Taft's call and passed a constitutional amendment that unanimously in the Republican controlled Senate and by a vote of 318 to 14 in the Republican controlled House. It allowed the federal government to tax incomes with the apportionment consideration.

In August, Alabama was the first state to ratify what was to become the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. In February, Kentucky became the second state to ratify. By November 1912, 34 of the 36 states required had ratified.

Copyright © 2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.