Monday, December 14, 2009

Today -100: December 14, 1909: Of steerage, sore paws, and the Methodist attack upon Africa

The Immigration Commission reported to the Senate on conditions of the steerage section on steamship. Oddly enough, not good. “Everything was dirty, sticky, and disagreeable to the touch,” said one female agent who traveled undercover. Sexual harassment of women passengers in steerage is common. The agent had to belt one member of the crew (who I’m guessing was also dirty, sticky, and disagreeable to the touch), and fend off constant requests by Leonardo diCaprio to “paint” her. And the sanitation, and the food...

If I may indulge in a little foreshadowing: Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon, asked about the possibility of his retiring as speaker, “elevated the muzzle of his cigar a few degrees and came back with the remark that he ‘wasn’t crossing any bridges until he came to them.’” And Rep. Augustus Peabody Gardner (R-Mass.) (what, you thought somebody named Augustus Peabody Gardner would be a Democrat?) says that he does want some alteration in the powers and/or the person of the speaker, but “The fact that my paws are sore is not sufficient reason for licking them in public.”

With Sen. Isidor Rayner (Blowhard-MD) calling loudly for Nicaraguan Pres. Zelaya to be tried by the United States for the execution of Cannon and Groce, the NYT editorial page brings up an embarrassing precedent: In 1818 Gen. Andrew Jackson, commanding the invasion of Spanish Florida, ordered the execution of British citizens Arbuthnot and Ambrister for aiding the Seminole and Creek Indians.

Pres. Taft gave a speech at Carnegie Hall (after which he was saved by the Secret Service from being pushed off the stage by a crowd of people trying to shake hands with him) in celebration of the diamond jubilee of the Methodist Episcopal missions in Africa or, in Taft’s approving words, “the attack of the Methodist Church upon Africa.” He suggested they establish a bishopric in the Philippines and said that “if I were a missionary I had rather try my hand in a country like China, that has a history of two, three, four, or five thousand years, than to go into Africa, that has no history at all except that which we trace to the apes.”

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