Thursday, March 20, 2014

Today -100: March 20, 1914: Of women and negro suffrage, divided armies, half-baked anarchists, and vulcanists (the most pacifist and logical of races)

The Senate votes 35-34 in favor of a women’s suffrage amendment to the Constitution, well short of the necessary 2/3. Most of the debate is about race rather than sex. An amendment to the resolution offered by arch-racist James K. Vardaman (D-Miss.) to repeal the 15th Amendment loses 19-48. An amendment to restrict women’s suffrage to white women, offered by Mississippi’s other, slightly less racist (but still racist as fuck) senator, John Sharp Williams (who seems to have used the N–word rather a lot and who goes off on some weird tangent about how he’d give negroes a little leeway, for example by not sending them to prison like he would a white man for stealing chickens or for bigamy), fails 21-44. The 35 senators who voted for women’s suffrage included 14 D’s & 21 R’s; the 34 who voted against were 22 D’s and 12 R’s. Only three Southern senators voted in favor. The only senator willing to directly come out against women’s suffrage was James Martine (D-NJ), who wonders if pro-suffrage senators found objection to Jesus not having chosen six female apostles.

The White House claims that First Lady Ellen Wilson’s recent indisposition is the result of an accident – she tripped on a rug and had a minor injury, they lie. And a “slight operation” because she had a... bruise. (Update: “lie” may be too strong: she was keeping her condition secret even from Woodrow).

The NYT says there are 150,000 Ulsterites drilling in preparation for civil war. There are rumors that warrants have been signed for the arrest of Ulster Unionist leaders. The British government denies it, but Sir Edward Carson, the Marquis of Londonberry and others are making their way to Belfast, where presumably there will be a fight if arrests are attempted. In Parliament, Tory leader Andrew Bonar Law demands a referendum of the entire UK on Home Rule, including the provision for referenda in Northern Irish counties. He says if Asquith refuses his generous offer, it must be because the government wants to settle this by bullets (a bit rich from the man encouraging Ulsterites to import arms). He threatens that if there is a civil war, “The army will be divided, and that force be destroyed on which we depend for our national safety.”

The IWW invade and disrupt a meeting in Cooper Union called by socialists to discuss the unemployment problem. One of the socialist speakers calls them “half-baked anarchists” and asks why they came to “break up a respectable meeting.”

British aviators are charging passengers $250 for flights (or 15s a mile), including loop-the-loops. Evidently, women are particularly keen on the loops. Other passengers include Prince Paul of Serbia and some guy who brought along two little black pigs because why not. And yet another British military airman dies in a plane crash, the 36th.

Ironic Death of the Day -100: Prof. Giuseppe Mercalli, vulcanist, seismologist, and Director of the Vesuvian Observatory, burned to death by an overturned paraffin lamp. (Update: Wikipedia says he was actually murdered and his body burned to cover up a robbery.)

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  1. It’s interesting that a proposal to repeal the Fifteenth Amendment was turned down so sharply as 19—48.

    I have no evidence any public opinion poll on repeal of the Fifteenth Amendment was ever conducted. Once the Bolshevik Revolution came with the goal of uniting lower classes of all races such an opinion poll – unless some means of preventing the result from becoming known outside North America existed – would have done irreparable harm to America’s image amongst foreign lower classes.

    What data do exist suggest that repeal of the Fifteenth Amendment was strongly supported by the majority of white Americans in the 1910s. In Ohio in 1912, for instance, a constitutional amendment deleting the “white” requirement to vote was rejected. If we analogise with earlier history of suffrage for non-whites, this strongly suggests that every state outside the Northeast would have voted for repeal of the Fifteenth Amendment. It also suggests that opposition to repeal within white America would have come only from the upper classes, and it is doubtful even that upper-class whites would have had given that much opposition. Recent election results suggest that lower- and middle-class white opposition (especially in rural areas) to the Fifteenth Amendment has not declined, even if merely polling it is a taboo subject for the country’s image abroad. (Can you imagine the global reaction if overwhelming support for repeal was revealed even at a local level in most rural areas.

    Why the Fifteenth Amendment was never repealed undoubtedly reflects not popular opposition but international and even national Realpolitik. In some places in the border states and Northeast, statewide elections could be strongly influenced by a black vote extremely loyal to the Republican Party owing to its role in emancipating slaves. Politicians who were far-sighted enough might also have imagined that repeal – and consequent complete disfranchisement of blacks at least outside the Northeast and quite likely even there – would have made black leaders highly hostile to the United States and the values it stood for. If they were, civil rights would have taken a very different trajectory – no efforts to integrate, but more likely efforts to form independent city-states.

  2. There were no opinion polls on any subject in 1914, so our knowledge of public opinion is impressionistic.

    Ohio: in that September 1914 election, the voters also rejected women's suffrage, by a wider margin. The voters may have been a bit overwhelmed, the state constitutional convention having put 42 const. amendments on the ballot. Black people, the handful who lived in the state, could and did vote in Ohio, as far as I know without any impediment.

    As for repealing the 15th, the US has only once repealed a constitutional amendment; it's not something that was done. However, it was basically a dead letter. The Great Migration to the North hadn't begun yet, and the right of black people to vote in the South was severely restricted, by poll taxes, grandfather laws, literacy tests, violence, and all-white Democratic primaries, primaries being a party matter that the Constitution more or less didn't apply to (no political parties in the Const), and the Democratic Party being the only functional party in the South. So no need to repeal the 15th or to restart North-South antagonism by the attempt.