Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

March 12, 2013

Teddy, Taft and Wilson: The Progressive era

Pat Smith
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Recently I received an email about the cremated remains of a former crew member on the USS Arizona.

The former crew member was on the Arizona Dec. 7, 1941 and one of the 335 that lived. The veteran asked that when he died, his ashes be placed inside the barbette of a gun turret of the Arizona with the 1,177 men killed that day.

This was news to me. I didn’t know that crew members who were assigned to the USS Dec. 7, 1941 could request that be done, but several of them have done so. Crew members that served on the Arizona before Dec. 7, 1941 can request that their ashes be scattered over the ship.

Until Dr. Calvin Davis mentioned it, I didn’t know that after World War I ended, the USS Arizona was one of the ships chosen to escort President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference. Later, the Arizona was sent to Turkey in order to show American interest. After that it was sent to its last duty, as part of the Pacific Fleet.

Thanks to Dr. Davis, the last campaign for the Presidency was more interesting than it would have been had he not been willing to share some of his knowledge. You probably know that Dr. Davis is the author of a book, “The United States and the First Hague Peace Conference,” published by Cornell University Press. Later he wrote “The United States and the Second Hague Peace Conference: American Diplomacy and International Organization, 1899-1914,” and both books were used as a reference for Ronald E. Powaski in writing his book titled, “Toward an Entangling Alliance.”

Davis’ books were about the Hague Conferences. The Paris Peace Conference was not long after the Hague Conferences. They were all important in our history. Their failures and successes over the years eventually led to the formation of the United Nations.

My knowledge of our 28th President was limited to his being president during World War I, being ill during the last part of his presidency and having a good deal to do with the League of Nations. I am, however, learning more about him and I will share a bit of what Davis said about Woodrow Wilson. During the campaigning last year some of us became a bit disillusioned — not with the candidates but with the overall process or lack thereof. I took advantage of Dr. Davis’ knowledge to learn about other campaigns.

Davis said that Wilson had made a strong record as a reform governor of New Jersey. “In 1912 there were several contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination but none was more clearly identified with reform than the Governor of New Jersey.” At that time, Davis said the Democrats required a two/thirds majority at the convention for nomination. Wilson won on the 46th ballot. Wilson must have been a patient man or he surely would have given up along about the 33rd ballot.

Davis said that reform – “progressive” reform was in the air in 1912. The Republicans, re-nominating President William Howard Taft, was for reform. The Republicans who broke with the party and nominated former President Theodore Roosevelt on a new party’s ticket were advocates of more reform than Taft. They called their party “The Progressive Party,” and took the Bull Moose as their symbol. The Socialists said that all three parties were inadequate and they nominated Eugene V. Debs as their candidate.

Adapting the federal government to a society in which business had become very big was a major challenge to political leaders during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Reacting to the assassination of President James A. Garfield by a man who had been disappointed in his quest for appointment as a consul and to the reports of corruption in government which had been constant since the Grant administration, Congress, on Jan. 16, 1883, passed the Pendleton Act which ordered examinations for candidates for many Civil Service jobs.

The Act also made it unlawful to fire or downgrade for political reasons an employee who was covered by the law. The law also forbids requiring employees to give political service or contributions.

Last week, the last sentence of my column was accidentally cut off in the print edition of the Daily News, so here it is in case you wondered: “Judy Bodwell, Albert Rust’s daughter, also wrote that many of his friends across the country were able to enjoy the columns by searching the Internet. I’ll treasure the note, but most of all I’ll treasure the memory of meeting her dad.”

I love hearing from readers but am seldom at the Daily News office. Contact me at patjsmith@etczone.com or at 122 W Sheridan.