American History Lecture Ten
In the early 1900s, business continued to expand, labor conflicts increased, and there were additional marvelous inventions. In 1903, for example, the Wright brothers had the first airplane flight on the beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Wilbur and Orville Wright were actually from Dayton, Ohio, where there is a fascinating museum devoted to innovations in air travel.
Sons of a Christian minister, the Wright boys lost their mother to an illness while they were teenagers. Orville, the younger of the boys, dropped out of high school to start a printing business, which he turned into a newspaper with the help of his brother Wilbur. But the competition from larger newspapers was too great, and their business went back to only printing.
A bicycle craze hit our nation in the 1890s, and the Wrights started making and selling bicycles. Then they began to focus on designing a bicycle-powered airplane:
- In 1896, the newspapers were filled with accounts of flying machines. Wilbur and Orville noticed that all these primitive aircraft lacked suitable controls. They began to wonder how a pilot might balance an aircraft in the air, just as a cyclist balances his bicycle on the road. In 1899, Wilbur devised a simple system that twisted or "warped" the wings of a biplane, causing it to roll right or left. They tested this system in a kite, then a series of gliders. ... [D]uring the winter of 1901-1902 Wilbur and Orville built a wind tunnel and conducted experiments to determine the best wing shape for an airplane. ... Toward the end of the 1902 flying season, their third glider became the first fully controllable aircraft, with roll, pitch, and yaw controls. During the winter of 1902-1903, with the help of their mechanic, Charlie Taylor, the Wrights designed and built a gasoline engine light enough and powerful enough to propel an airplane.
Yankee ingenuity continued. Within five years Henry Ford was producing his first "Model T" automobiles. He developed the assembly line and the use of interchangeable parts to make production more efficient, to reduce costs, and to increase output. Henry Ford also believed in sharing his enormous profits with his workers, increasing their wages to record high levels. He felt they could become his best customers if they were paid more. Ford was an example of a businessman who had almost no original ideas of his own; he improved and used the ideas he learned from others. There is nothing wrong with that, and unfortunately many do not achieve their potential because they are unwilling to use someone else's good idea. "Not invented here" as a reason to reject good ideas is a mistake.
The labor movement grew, while continuing to suffer from infiltration by radicals. "Big" Bill Haywood was a miner and a violent unionist who founded Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905. He was involved in many labor disputes, including textile strikes in New Jersey. He was eventually convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 (see its discussion below) and, while he was out of jail pending appeal of his conviction, he fled to the newly communist Russia in 1918.
Meanwhile, a dispute developed in the African American community about how to advance. W.E.B. Du Bois took a more aggressive and militant approach to advancement than Booker Washington had. In 1905 Du Bois founded the Niagara Movement, which demanded full citizenship rights for African Americans. In 1909 he founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which became very influential in the mid-to-late 1900s in advocating for civil rights.
But the NAACP was not aggressive enough for some. Marcus Garvey, another African American leader, founded the United Negro Improvement Association, which advocated both black pride and a return to Africa.
In 1915, in Guinn v. U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court helped African Americans by striking down "grandfather clauses" that interfered with voting by descendants of slaves. The Court based its ruling on the 15th Amendment, which guarantees the right to vote regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." In other words, the 15th Amendment prohibited interfering with the rights of former slaves to vote.
In our prior lecture we discussed imperialism, and mentioned how Teddy Roosevelt became a hero in the Spanish-American War. He is also a modern-day hero to some; the 2008 presidential candidate Republican John McCain said his role model was Teddy Roosevelt. He is the only modern figure to have his face carved in Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, due to his support for the national park system and perhaps also his support of outdoor strenuous activities. Let's look now at this important, fascinating American President.
Vice President Theodore ("Teddy") Roosevelt was only 42 years old when President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. Teddy Roosevelt thereby became the youngest President in American history, a record that continues to this day (the minimum age required by the Constitution is 35 years old for the president). Athletically fit and vigorous, he brought an exciting level of aggression in leading America. He was a "progressive" but also an imperialist, pushing for a a strong foreign policy. As President Andrew Jackson had done over 70 years earlier, Teddy Roosevelt expanded the power of the presidency with a view that he should take whatever action he thought promoted the public good, as long as it was not expressly prohibited by law or the Constitution. "I did not usurp power," Teddy Roosevelt declared, "but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power."
Roosevelt became famous as a "trust buster" for requiring the dissolution of a huge railroad conglomerate in the Northwest. The Roosevelt Administration took the case of Northern Securities Co. v. U.S. to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1904 that the Sherman (Antitrust) Act required breaking up the railroad trust. This decision had the effect of "resurrecting" or reviving the Sherman Act, and Roosevelt used it to break up other monopolies. His popularity soared as a result; newspapers and the common man loathed the big corporations, and considered Teddy Roosevelt to be a hero in defeating large companies.
The breaking up of monopolies was part of Roosevelt's approach that he called the "Square Deal." This name resulted from his negotiation of settlements between striking workers and big corporations, which reportedly gave a "square deal" to both sides in the agreement. He campaigned in 1904 by taking credit for treating the owners and workers equally in resolving a nasty coal miner's strike in 1902, giving them both a "square deal."
The fiery Roosevelt was neither a liberal nor a conservative, and after serving as president he even left the Republican Party to start a new political party based on his own personality. He had his own "maverick" style similar to that of the 2008 presidential candidate John McCain.
Roosevelt approved many new regulations and assistance programs. He signed the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902, which gave federal assistance to irrigate Western land for farmers and ranchers. He signed into law the Hepburn Act of 1906, which strengthened federal regulation of railroads by increasing the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). Later, in 1910, the Mann-Elkins Act empowered the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to suspend any increases in rates by railroads in shipping goods. The Act also extended the ICC's authority to include the regulation of communications companies, such as telephone companies. The political support for this increased regulation was so broad that it passed by the huge margin of 50-12 in the U.S. Senate. (Notice that there were not yet 100 Senators in the U.S. Senate then, because many states had not yet joined the United States).
In 1906 an influential book entitled "The Jungle" was published. Author Upton Sinclair exposed the filthy conditions of Chicago slaughterhouses. This resulted in swift passage in 1906 of both the Meat Inspection Act, which established federal regulation and inspection of slaughterhouses, and the Pure Food and Drug Act, which established federal regulation and inspection of food and medications (drugs).
In foreign policy, Roosevelt's famous approach was to "speak softly and carry a big stick" (to use against anyone who causes problems). In 1902 there was a boundary dispute concerning Venezuela resulting in a blockade by both Britain and Germany, but Roosevelt persuaded both to withdraw. He was a peacemaker, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese War.
The Russo-Japanese War was a remarkable victory by the relatively small Japan against the large Russia on Chinese soil in 1904-05. In June 1905, the Treaty of Portsmouth (New Hampshire) was signed ending that war because Roosevelt invited Japan and Russia to a conference in New Hampshire to make peace. As a result of this treaty Japan expanded its influence in Far East, but Roosevelt rejected Japan's demand for reparations from Russia.
The Taft-Katsura Agreement in 1905 recognized (allowed) Japan's dominance in Korea, which Secretary of War (and future president) William Howard Taft approved. In return, Japan promised not to invade the Philippines, which was American territory at that time.
But issues with Japan continued, as Japan was growing into a world power that would lead to World War II less than 40 years later. Roosevelt reached the "Gentleman's Agreement" with Japan in 1907, which excluded Japanese immigrants from the United States.
Notice that even the Progressives, including Roosevelt, opposed immigration. Roosevelt was particularly concerned about preserving the English language in America:
- There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag. ... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language ... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.
In 1908 the Root-Takahira Agreement was reached with Japan by Secretary of State Elihu Root. This kept the status quo with Japan but established an "Open Door" policy allowing trade by many countries with China. Japan was allowed to annex Korea, which resulted in an animosity between Koreans and Japan that exists to this day.
Roosevelt's greatest accomplishment was the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903, a treaty with Panama which granted to the United States a five-mile wide tract of land to build the Panama Canal, for a fee of $10 million plus $250,000 per year.
The reason Roosevelt is one of four faces on Mount Rushmore (the other three are Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln) is because he established the national park system to conserve the treasures of our nation's natural resources (Roosevelt was a "conservationist"). He was a big hiker and lover of the outdoors himself, even taking ambassadors from other countries on hikes in D.C. when they visited. After his second term ended in 1909, Roosevelt went on a safari in Africa. He declared that he felt as fit as a bull moose, and then named a new party that he started in 1912 the "Bull Moose Party." That political party was Teddy Roosevelt and little more, and disappeared quickly after he lost that election.
Roosevelt enjoyed support in newspapers, particularly among "muckrakers". Muckrakers were journalists who sensationalized bad aspects of big business and machine politics. Whenever Roosevelt "took on" big business, he was glorified in the papers and he probably enjoyed that.
But Roosevelt was occasionally ridiculed too. In 1906, Andrew Carnegie proposed simplifying English so that it could become the most popular language for the entire world. He set up the "Simplified Spelling Board" and placed famous Americans like Mark Twain on it to simplify the spelling of words like "ghost" ("gost") to make it easier for the rest of the world to learn and use.
Roosevelt was enthralled with this idea, and with his typically naive gusto embraced it completely. He quietly ordered the United States Government Printing Office to use the new spellings of 300 words as recommended by the Simplified Spelling Board. Newspapers, when they saw the result, mercilessly ridiculed Roosevelt's action in -- you guessed it -- political cartoons. Congress was angry for not being asked to approve this, and in December 1906 passed a resolution saying it would use the dictionary instead. Roosevelt had to sheepishly retract his order. But today many of the "new spellings" have been adopted by common usage anyway.
In 1919, Roosevelt died at the age of 61 with a bullet still lodged in his chest from an assassination attempt against him in 1912 while he was campaigning for president for the Bull Moose Party.
Social trends and Court decisions
Americans were migrating to cities in large numbers in the late 1800s, transforming our nation from a predominantly farming society into an urban one. Between 1870 and 1920, the population of Americans living in cities increased over five-fold, from 10 million in 1870 to 54 million in 1920. Cities having more than 500,000 people increased from 2 to 12; cities having over 100,000 residents grew from 15 to 68; and for the first time (in 1920) more than half the American population lived in communities having more than 2,500 people. Part of this influx was due to the "New Immigration," when 26 million Europeans came to the United States prior to the curtailing of immigration in 1924. The "New Immigration" was more from southern and eastern Europe, which was more Catholic and Jewish, rather than from the more Protestant northern Europe as before. A decline in the profitability of farming also led to migration to cities, as the children of farmers looked for better work and income in urban areas.
In 1890, Jacob Riis wrote an influential book entitled "How the Other Half Lives," which depicted overcrowded areas in cities and how that resulted in gangs and murders. Racial discrimination became a problem also, and in 1916 the private Urban League was formed with the goal of eliminating discrimination in large cities and supporting social work there.
But farmers remained politically powerful, more so than they are today, and Congress passed laws to address their hardships. The Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916 provided for the establishment of Boards to provide loans to farmers and ranchers. It was expanded later to include assistance to the buyers of homes.
In 1903, the Women's Trade Union League was founded to unionize women workers, because they had been excluded from the large (men's) American Federation of Labor (AFL) at its union meeting in Boston. In 1908, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a State law limiting the number of hours women could work, in the case of Muller v. Oregon. The Court ruled in favor of the regulation of women's working conditions even though it had previously ruled against the power of States to regulate men's working conditions.
Specifically, in 1905 the Supreme Court invalidated a state regulation of men's working conditions (maximum hours that can be worked), by holding that it violated freedom of contract (free enterprise) under the Constitution. That was the case of Lochner v. New York, also known as "Lochner doctrine." This ruling stood for decades and was an obstacle in the 1930s to the "New Deal" of President Franklin Roosevelt, who wanted many new regulations in response to the Great Depression.
Debate: Should government be able to establish different working conditions for women as compared to men? How about in the case of working conditions that may be harmful to pregnancy or potential pregnancy?
Debate: Should government be able to interfere with free enterprise by establishing maximum working hours for men?
In 1923, the Supreme Court invalidated limits on the working hours for women as unconstitutional. This extend Lochner doctrine to women. This case was Adkins v. Children's Hospital.
The progressives pushed for broader suffrage (voting rights) in the early 1900s. Susan B. Anthony, a leading "suffragette" who devoted her life to advocating a universal right for women to vote, died in 1906 but left a growing movement for this goal. Modern feminists rarely cite her as a hero because she also opposed abortion and supported Prohibition (the universal banning of alcohol).
The "feminists" of a hundred or so years ago were pro-family and pro-life; the self-described feminists of today are anti-family and pro-abortion. This illustrates how names, particularly political labels, change their meaning over time.
1909 to 1914
A more conservative president succeeded Teddy Roosevelt in office in 1909: William Howard Taft. He lowered tariffs and exercised executive restraint (limiting his own power). Taft later became the Chief Justice of the United States (the leading Justice on the Supreme Court); Taft was the only person to lead one branch of government and then lead another.
Taft would have won reelection in 1912, but Teddy Roosevelt insisted on running for president himself as part of the new Progressive (Bull Moose) Party that he founded. This split the Republican vote in half, and allowed the Democratic candidate, the former governor of New Jersey and president of Princeton University, to win. An intellectual, Woodrow Wilson was a progressive who served as President from 1913 to 1921, though he was too sick to accomplish anything towards the end of his presidency. His goal was to make the world safe for democracy, and to expand democracy to foreign countries. He is also known for starting the Federal Reserve banking system that exists to this day. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which was passed soon after Wilson became president, gave our nation a central banking system for the first time since President Jackson destroyed the Bank of the United States and refused to allow it to be reinstated.
As mentioned above, President Taft slightly decreased tariff rates during his presidency (before Wilson). In 1909, the Paine-Aldrich Tariff reduced tariff rates and then, in 1913, the Underwood Tariff brought a big reduction in duty taxes on imports, the first significant reduction since the Civil War. President Wilson did not like tariffs and felt they caused conflicts with foreign countries. He wanted to replace tariffs with a "graduated" or progressive income tax that hit wealthy (primarily hard-working) people more than poor (often lazy) people.
The 16th Amendment, which was ratified in 1913 just as Wilson became president, overruled the Supreme Court's decision of Pollack v. Farmers Loan and Trust, which had declared an income tax to be unconstitutional. The 16th Amendment authorized a national income tax:
- The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census of enumeration.
Two other significant developments occurred just as Wilson was taking the presidency in 1913: the establishment of the Dillingham Commission to recommend limits on immigration, especially from eastern and southern Europe, and the ratification of the 17th Amendment, which required the direct election of U.S. Senators by the people rather than by state legislatures as before.
World War I
The drumbeat of war in Europe was starting in the early 1900s, and America would eventually be drawn into it. The roots of this European conflict were in the Triple Alliance, which was a secret military alliance between Italy, German and Austria-Hungary between 1882 and 1914. In the meantime, the "Triple Entente" was formed in 1907 between France, Great Britain and Russia, in which they allied themselves with each other based on several treaties. These alliances led to World War I.
The spark was the assassination in Bosnia of Archduke Ferdinand in June 1914, and war between the two alliances soon began. The secret promises among many countries to defend each other caused them to be pulled into the war, making this the first genuine world war in history.
In 1915, a German submarine sunk the Lusitania, which was a British passenger ship carrying many Americans, 128 of whom died. The American public was outraged, but still did not support declaring war against Germany.
Congress began to prepare for war. In 1916, it passed the National Defense Act, which was a military preparedness program that expanded the army, increased the size of the National Guard fourfold, and set up "ROTC" programs for college students to earn tuition in return for military service. It gave the president the power to mobilize the National Guard in the event of a national emergency such as war.
In 1916, another German submarine sunk an unarmed steamer called the "Sussex". Then Germans issued the "Sussex Pledge," which vowed to stop sinking unarmed boats. They could not keep their pledge, and began sinking ships again in 1917.
The American public was against becoming involved in the European war, and President Wilson ran for and was reelected based on a pledge of not injecting America into the war. In January 1917, soon after he was reelected, he addressed the Senate with his plan for "peace without victory" in order to settle the conflict without sending American troops. His plan was a total failure.
In 1917, the German foreign minister inflamed the passions of the American people by sending the "Zimmermann telegram" to Mexico. It promised return of the Southwest to Mexico if it would invade the United States. This telegram was intercepted and publicized to the American public to increase their support of entering the war in Europe on the side of England, and against Germany.
Congress prepared further for war. In 1917 it passed the Selective Service Act, which forced all males between the ages of 18 and 25 register for military service. This was the "draft" that provided the men to fight in World War I.
Debate: Was it discriminatory not to include girls and women in this draft?
Congress declared war in April 1917, and fighting lasted until 1918. Americans suffered many tragic losses in life, but because of our late entry our overall losses were much less than those suffered by the European countries.
Obviously not everyone agreed with the war or the draft. But Congress passed laws to censor dissent. It passed the Espionage Act in 1917, which imposed fines of $10,000 and jail time of 20 years for any person thought to be aiding the enemy, and authorized the U.S. Postal Service to ban any material found to be treasonable. The Sedition Act, passed in May 1918, made it illegal to speak out to discourage the purchase of war bonds.
When citizens challenged these limitations on the right of free speech, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Congress and against the First Amendment. In Schenck v. U.S. (1919), the Court upheld the prosecution for any speech that created a "clear and present danger" to the national interest of enlisting soldiers. In Abrams v. U.S. (1919), the Court sustained convictions under the Espionage Act for leafletting against American opposition to the communist revolution in Russia. Finally, in Debs v. U.S. (1919) the Court upheld an indictment (criminal charges) against someone for speaking out against military recruitment of soldiers. (The Supreme Court's interpretation of the right to free speech under the First Amendment is stronger today than it was in 1919.)
Debate: Was it wrong for Congress and the Supreme Court to limit free speech during World War I?
Congress limited economic freedoms in the name of war also. The Lever Act of 1917, for example, authorized the president to set the price of wheat. This was used later by Hoover to combat the Great Depression. Congress also passed the Trading with the Enemy Act in 1917, which gave the president the power to stop financial transactions in wartime. It is now used to restrict travel and trade with Cuba.
Hoarding was a crime during the war. One story in the New York Times announced how a couple had been arrested and charged with the "crime" of having $1000-worth of extra food in their home. Congress did not want people to buy more than they needed.
Labor disputes in the United States during the war were handled by the National War Labor Board, which President Wilson established in April 1918. He placed former President Taft and also Frank P. Walsh in charge of this important commission, with the goal of settling labor conflicts. The Overman Act, also passed in 1918, gave the President extraordinary powers to coordinate government agencies in wartime.
In October 1917, near the end of World War I, there was the communist (Bolshevik) revolution in Russia. This would cause the United States and the world many problems later in the 20th century, and is still a problem today in some countries like Venezuela, Cuba, China and North Korea.
An armistice (an agreement to stop the fighting) with Germany to end World War I did not come until late 1918, and the peace treaty was not signed until 1919, but it was clear by January 1918 that the end was drawing near. A joint session of Congress convened then for an address by President Wilson, in which he outlined his "Fourteen Points" for peace and for the future of the world. His address, which contained ideas known as Wilson idealism, took the progressive movement's principles of democracy, self-determination and free trade and proposed imposing that on the world. He also urged against any more secret agreements by nations that started World War I. Specifically, Wilson's "Fourteen Points" included a guarantee freedom on the high seas, facilitation of international trade with few or no tariffs, a reduction in military arms, an end to colonialism, a ban on secret treaties, restoration to Russia of territory taken during the war, and a return to France of the Alsace-Lorraine territory taken by Germany.
Most of all, President Wilson proposed a "League of Nations" to govern the world in the future. The Senate refused to join the League of Nations, but later the United Nations replaced it and the United States did join that.
On June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed which required the surrender of German territory, massive reparations (payments) by Germany to France and England, Allied occupation of Germany and an admission of guilt by Germany. Historians later view this treaty as having been too harsh on Germany and a major cause of the rise of Adolf Hitler and World War II.
The Treaty largely rejected Wilson's Fourteen Points but did embrace the League of Nations. But the U.S. Senate then refused to ratify the Treaty!
The Great Influenza, or "Spanish flu"
In 1918 -- during the final months of World War I -- there was an outbreak of the flu worldwide which killed an estimated 50 million people, far more than died from battles in the war. This particular strain of the flu (a synonym for influenza) was highly fatal, killing perhaps 10% of everyone who caught it which is much higher than most flu casualty rates. Today the flu does take the life of tens of thousands of elderly people each year, but this so-called Spanish flu in 1918 claimed the lives of young and otherwise healthy people, and killed more soldiers than the battles did. Its name is a misnomer: it is unlikely that this flu in 1918 originated in Spain, and it may have begun in China. The French called it the Spanish flu because the King of Spain contracted it, but so did President Woodrow Wilson and millions of others.
The outbreak caused massive deaths in many American cities and overwhelmed the resources of hospitals. It is the worst pandemic of a disease in modern history, and perhaps ever. Yet it is often missing from history books and many people today do not know anything about it.
Each year the flu has a different strain and biological composition, and mortality rates in the United States are typically less than 1% and even lower for otherwise healthy people. But the strain of the flu in 1918 contained the H1 virus plus genetic material from a bird flu virus, which was a deadly combination for which many lacked immunity. It was highly contagious simply by being in proximity with someone who had it.
Parades were common then to support the war effort. In St. Louis, wise authorities canceled parades and prohibited large public gatherings where the flu was being transmitted. This saved many lives in St. Louis, while casualties were much higher in other cities such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where parades were held and spread the disease.
In Philadelphia, where public parades and gatherings continued despite the flu, 12,000 people died in six weeks and 759 died in single day. Clergy would drive carts down Philadelphia streets to collect dead bodies from the flu and then bury them in mass graves. Nationwide, 675,000 Americans died from this flu. By comparison, fewer than 10% of that total for Americans died from battles in World War I, or about 53,402. The United States had a total of 116,516 fatalities in the war but 63,114 were due to disease, mostly the Spanish flu.
Post-World War I
Several amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution soon after the end of World War I. In 1919, the Prohibition movement (which had been active for decades) succeeded in ratifying the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture, sale, importation, and exportation of alcohol. Recall that the Prohibition movement was started by Christian women, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, who were upset at the enormous harm caused by alcohol to so many families. Other groups joined in the effort to ban alcohol, including the Anti-Saloon League, which was disgusted by the harmful effect of saloons on communities.
Congress quickly passed the Volstead Act in 1919 to enforce Prohibition, but lacked enough federal agents to enforce it. Many secretly ignored and violated the ban, and "organized crime" profited from the illegal trade in alcohol. After the Great Depression hit, power in the country shifted from the Republicans to Democrats in the early 1930s. Democrats led the effort to ratify the 21st Amendment to repeal Prohibition. But even now there are several "dry" counties which do not allow the sale of alcohol.
Debate: Was Prohibition desirable? Has alcohol caused more harm than good?
In 1920, women obtained the universal right to vote by virtue of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Women already voted in many states by that time, but this amendment ensured they could vote everywhere.
Non-war-related developments in the decade of the 1910s had a significant impact after the war. In 1914, Congress passed the Clayton (Antitrust) Act, which expanded bans on anti-competitive activities and monopolization. It prohibited "price discrimination" (charging two identical customers different prices), tying agreements (a powerful company "tying" one product to another by requiring a customer to buy both), and interlocking directors among competitors (the same people serving as directors of UPS and Federal Express, for example). To help enforce laws against unfair business practices, Congress also passed the Federal Trade Commission Act in 1914. This established the Federal Trade Commission to investigate unfair trade practices and issue "cease and desist orders" to stop them.
In 1917, Congress created territorial status for Puerto Rico by passing the Jones Act. This also gave citizens of Puerto Rico full citizenship in the United States.
Intellectual thought in the early 1900s was dominated by an embrace of "social Darwinism." The theory of evolution was proposed by Charles Darwin in England in 1859 and was gradually promoted by atheists in schools. It was widely rejected by scientists in the first several decades, but pressure built to replace Christianity with Darwinism at universities and schools. The theory became more popular in England than in France, and was not widely accepted or taught in the United States in the 19th century. (To this day most Americans reject the theory of evolution as it is taught in schools.)
In business, advocates of "social Darwinism" included Herbert Spencer in England and William Graham Sumner in the United States, and they felt that civilization depended on unregulated business activity so that only the fit would survive and thrive.
Intellectuals began expanding the "survival of the fittest" theory of evolution to social issues, and advocated that the "unfit" should be eliminated from mankind just as Darwin claimed they were naturally eliminated from the animal world. This led to the "eugenics" movement, which taught that those with the highest IQ or other advantageous traits should be favored, and those with low IQ or undesirable traits should be prevented from having children, or even eliminated themselves. These ideas became very popular in England and Germany. Planned Parenthood, which does abortions today, was founded by a believer in eugenics: Margaret Sanger. One of her many offensive views was that government approval should be required before a married couple can have a child.
In the United States, the eugenics movement and social Darwinism found its biggest following at universities like Harvard, which had already been drifting away from their Christian roots. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who served on the High Court for over 30 years, studied at Harvard and became a big believer in Darwinism. Previously he had fought against slavery in the Civil War, but then he abandoned his youthful morality and instead embraced the Darwinian utilitarianism, including eugenics. Justices Holmes thereby moved away from morality and logic, and towards his own view of the teachings of "experience". "The life of the law has not been logic, but experience," Holmes declared.
The State of Virginia implemented eugenics by forcibly sterilizing a woman without her knowledge or consent, rendering her incapable of having children, because she supposedly had a low IQ (actually, historians now say her IQ was not very low by today's standards). A lawyer sued on her behalf, and the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Holmes wrote the decision, in which he declared, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927). Every other Justice, except one, agreed with this horrific decision, and it is considered one of the worst decisions in American history.
One person who stood up to the eugenics movement and the teaching of Darwinism in schools was William Jennings Bryan. The conflict reached its peak at the Scopes Trial in 1925, also known as the Monkey Trial.
William Jennings Bryan, you should recall, resigned as Secretary of State under President Wilson because Bryan was morally opposed to American involvement in World War I. After the war, Bryan toured Europe and kept asking himself: what caused this enormous inhumanity by mankind? World War I was by far the most brutal and atrocious war in the history of the world, with unspeakable slaughter of human life which included chemical warfare. Bryan did some soul-searching and wondered how it was possible that men would do this to each other.
He found his answer in the Darwinism that gripped England and Germany. World War I was, simply put, survival of the fittest by those who had come to believe that only the fittest should survive. It was application of Darwin's theory to mankind itself.
Upon his return to the United States, Bryan felt a calling to prevent the spread of this misguided theory to America. He supported State laws against teaching, to impressionable children in school, that man had evolved from lower life forms. Tennessee had such a law banning the teaching of the theory of human evolution in public school.
In 1925, the ACLU defended schoolteacher John Scopes against enforcement of the law. William Jennings Bryan offered his formidable legal talents to the State of Tennessee to defend the law. The ACLU retained Clarence Darrow, the leading criminal defense attorney and himself a believer in evolution. This became the legal fight of the century, Darrow (and Darwin) v. Bryan.
So many people flocked to watch the trial that it was often held outside the courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee. An atheist (and bigot) H.L. Mencken, the leading journalist of the first half of the 20th century, traveled from Baltimore to give his "spin" (biased reporting) on what happened. Mencken's account misled the world into thinking that Darrow (and Darwin) had won. In fact, the opposite occurred: Bryan won, Darrow's client Scopes was convicted, and the Tennessee law remained in effect for nearly another 50 years. Tennessee has remained conservative to this day; Tennessee voted against its own liberal resident Al Gore for President in 2000, giving George W. Bush the national election, and in 2008 presidential candidate John McCain defeated Barack Obama by 15 percentage points there, despite Obama winning by 7 points nationwide.
Details of the Trial
Bryan and the State of Tennessee objected to the textbook being used by Scopes in the public school in the town of Dayton. The textbook taught the falsehood that the Piltdown Man was the "missing link" somehow showing that man had evolved from apes. Years later the Piltdown Man was proven to be a complete fraud perpetrated by evolutionists. The textbook was also racist in teaching that whites had evolved to a higher life form than blacks.
The climax of the trial occurred when Bryan agreed to take the witness stand himself (which is unusual for an attorney) in order to answer Darrow's best questions, if Darrow likewise took the witness stand to answer Bryan's questions. Darrow agreed, and Bryan took the witness stand before a huge audience that gathered to hear one of the finest orators in American history.
This cross-examination of Bryan by Darrow included the following:
- Bryan--These gentlemen have not had much chance--they did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it and they can ask me any question they please.
- Judge--All right. (Applause in audience.) ...
- Bryan--Those [the applauding audience] are the people whom you [Darrow] insult.
- Darrow--You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does believe in your fool religion. ....
- Darrow: Wait until you get to me [Note: this refers to Darrow's agreement to be a witness to answer questions by Bryan]. Do you know anything about how many people there were in Egypt 3,500 years ago, or how many people there were in China 5,000 years ago?
- Darrow--Have you ever tried to find out?
- Bryan--No, sir. You are the first man I ever heard of who has been in interested in it. (Laughter)
- Darrow--Mr. Bryan, am I the first man you ever heard of who has been interested in the age of human societies and primitive man?
- Bryan--You are the first man I ever heard speak of the number of people at those different periods.
- Darrow--Where have you lived all your life?
- Bryan--Not near you. (Laughter and applause). ...
The next day, it was Darrow's turn to be cross-examined as he had agreed. But instead of upholding his end of the bargain, Darrow abruptly and surprisingly ended the trial by asking the jury to find his own client guilty!
The jury then deliberated for only 9 minutes, nearly a record in quick jury decisions. It found Darrow's client guilty and ordered him to pay a fine of $100. The fine was reversed on appeal.
Let's review several of the important topics of this lecture and the prior one.
Imperialism extended power over other peoples, and America did this particularly around turn of the century (1900). The Treaty of Paris at the end of the Spanish American War enabled the United States to annex the Philippine Islands, and also Guam and Puerto Rico. (Spain had previously held the Philippines ever since the explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered it in 1521.) But after we took over, a bloody rebellion continued there by natives. We sent 70,000 soldiers to suppress them. Many Americans opposed this imperialism, including Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie. They said it was against our American tradition. After the United States killed off many of the insurgents, Andrew Carnegie sarcastically wrote to our government, "You seem to have about finished your work of civilizing the Filipinos. About 8000 of them have been completely civilized and sent to Heaven. I hope you like it."
President Woodrow Wilson served out his two terms from 1913 through 1921, but was very sickly towards the end. Perhaps due to overwork in his unsuccessful attempt to persuade the American public to support the League of Nations, which included a strenuous speaking tour, Wilson collapsed after one of his speeches on this topic in Pueblo, Colorado in the fall of 1919. A week later, on Oct. 2, 1919, Wilson suffered a severe stroke that left him paralyzed and blind in one eye. He never fully recovered, and his incapacity was hidden from the public and not even his Vice President, his cabinet officials or congressmen were allowed to see him. The Constitution provided no means for substituting for an incapacitated president (later the 25th Amendment was passed to authorize a passing of power to the Vice President even if the President is still alive). Wilson's second wife (his first wife had died) handled everything for him for the remaining year of his presidency.
The election of 1920 brought new faces to the White House, and a "dark horse" candidate won for the Republicans this time: Warren G. Harding. There will be more about his presidency in the next lecture.
- "Americans do not believe that humans evolved ...." http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/22/opinion/polls/main657083.shtml A 2005 poll by the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Social and Religious Research found that 60% of American medical doctors reject Darwinism, stating that they do not believe humans evolved through natural processes alone. http://www.discovery.org/a/2611
- The Tennessee Constitution had a clause providing that any large fine must be set by a jury, not by the judge. The Tennessee Supreme Court vacated the verdict on that basis (but is $100 so large?), and then ruled that because Scopes no longer lived in the state, this case was moot.