THE PARIS CAUCUS, MARCH 15-17, 1919
The first delegates began to arrive for the caucus on March 14th. After-the-war good fellowship between those who had been commissioned officers on the one hand, and enlisted men on the other, was foreshadowed in a most interesting and striking manner when they began to come into the hotels. A dozen or more officer delegates brought with them as orderlies an equal number of delegates from the ranks. Thus enlisted personnel, by devious means, were ordered to Paris under one guise or another. One sergeant came under orders which stated that he was the bearer of important documents. He carried a despatch case wadded with waste paper. Another non-com., from a distant S.O.S. sector, had orders to report to Paris and obtain a supply of rat poison. Several wagoners, farriers, and buck privates acquired diseases of so peculiar a character that only Parisian physicians could treat them. As one of them said, he hadn't had so much fun since his office-boy [Pg 13]days when a grandmother made a convenient demise every time Mathewson pitched. The expense of the trip was gathered in diverse ways. In some divisions the officer delegates took up collections to defray the expense of enlisted delegates.
In numerous instances, enlisted men refused such assistance and took up their own collections. One amusing story was told by an enlisted man. He said that the "buddies" in his regiment had deliberately lost money to him in gambling games when he refused to be a delegate because he couldn't pay his own expenses. So by various means nearly two hundred enlisted delegates were in Paris by late afternoon on March 14th. It must not be imagined from the foregoing that all the officers arrived on special trains and were themselves in the lap of luxury. One second lieutenant who attended has since confided that he sold his safety razor and two five-pound boxes of fudge sent from home in order to get carfare to Paris.
Practically all of the self-appointed, temporary committee, with the exception of Colonel Roosevelt, was present. He was Chairman of the American Committee and had left France for the purpose of organizing that part of the army and navy which did not get abroad or which had returned home.
[Pg 14]The Paris caucus convened at the American Club near the Place de la Concorde on the afternoon of March 15th, Colonel Wood presiding. Lieutenant Colonel Bennett C. Clark of the 88th Division was selected Chairman of the caucus and Lt. Col. T.W. Miller of Pennsylvania, and serving in the 79th Division, was elected Vice-Chairman. When Colonel Wood called the meeting to order nearly one thousand delegates answered the roll-call and these were of all ranks from private to brigadier general; and every combat division and all sections of the S.O.S., were represented. Colonel Wood briefly reviewed the self-appointment of the temporary committee during the previous month and outlined the purposes of the caucus.
A few minutes after Colonel Clark had taken the chair an officer of high rank, a colonel to be exact, moved that while in the convention hall, the after-war status as fellow civilians be forecast and that the stations of rank would there cease to exist. It was agreed that they would be resumed with full force and full discipline as soon as the delegates crossed the threshold of the convention hall and regained the street.
It was the ability of the American officer to do this—to be friendly to a certain extent with his men and yet at the same time to keep them perfectly [Pg 15]disciplined—which amazed the officers of the armies of our Allies. No more striking example of this was ever given than within the confines of the American Club on that 15th day of March. The Colonel's motion was unanimously carried and the work of the organization began. Then generals forgot their rank, corporals engaged in hot debates with colonels, sergeants argued with majors and everybody talked with everybody else in a most boylike spirit of fraternity and equality.
Captain Ogden Mills of G.H.Q. moved that four caucus committees be appointed to draft suggestions and submit them to the caucus, one committee to design machinery for convening the winter convention; one committee to submit suggestions as to a permanent organization; one committee on tentative constitution; and one committee on name. Each committee consisted of fifteen members, and was appointed by the Chairman.
Here are the committees, appointed by the chair:
Committee on Convention
Committee of Permanent Organization
|Colonel Donovan,||42d Div., Chairman|
|Lt. Col. Graham,||88th Div., Vice-Chairman|
|Capt. Boyd,||29th Division|
|Sgt. Tip Bliss,||Stars and Stripes|
|Lt. Col. Fitzpatrick,||35th Division|
|Sgt. Rollo S. Thorpe,||88th Div.|
|Lt. Col. Crosby,||S.O.S.|
|Pvt. W.L. Thompson,||11th R.R. Engineers|
|Major Graff,||28th Division|
|Major Barry Wright,||79th Division|
|Sgt. Rommel,||Paris Command|
|Sgt. V.V. Trout,||Paris Command|
|Major R.C. Patterson,||Peace Commission|
|Lt. Col. Smith,||89th Division|
Committee On Name
|Lt. Col. Robbins,||2d Army Hq. Chairman|
|Lt. Col. Goodrich,||G.H.Q., Vice-Chairman|
|Sgt. Dolan,||89th Division|
|Lt. Col. Stebbins,||3rd Army Corps|
|Sgt. H.E. Fleming,||35th Division|
|Major E.S. Haile,||77th Div.|
|Sgt. McElow,||Paris Command|
|Major Horace Rumsey,||35th Division|
|Sgt. C.E. Sommers,||Paris Command|
|Major D.D. Drain,||3d Army|
|Sgt. G.F. Fleming,||Paris Command|
|Lt. Markoe,||2d Army|
|Sgt. Barnard,||Paris Command|
[Pg 17]The names of these committees are given because they are more than just names. They show the first bubbles of the melting pot into which all rank and titles in the American Army have been cast and out of which comes the one word "Comrade."
There were three outstanding features of the Paris caucus which were evident by midnight of March 15th. The first was the desire to get together and form an organization quickly and a willingness to forego personal prejudice and opinion to arrive at that end. The second was the determination to make the man who didn't get across as much a component part of the legion as his more fortunate brother-in-arms; while the third was the avowed intention to take no action at the caucus which could be deferred until the winter convention in America, when the home brother and the navy could be jointly represented and a permanent organization could be effected. I say that these things were evident by midnight of March 15th for those who have attended many conventions know that from the casual word heard here and there, the whispered conference of a few leaders, and from the general tenor of discussions carried on by delegates gathered together in little groups, the spirit of the body politic is most perceptible.
After the adjournment of the afternoon session [Pg 18]on that day, members of the committees closeted themselves and started work on their special functions, while those who were to pass on the committee's actions, the "hoi polloi" were here and there in groups, in the "Y" huts or in boulevard cafes discussing the real meaning of the gathering. A colonel in the Officers' Club said there must be no disagreement on this or that question; a private in the Bal Tabarin told his buddies the same thing.
And so it came to pass that on the following day in the Cirque de Paris, where the final meetings were held, the delegates formally gathered, sensed the gossip of the clubs and boulevards, and acted accordingly. One of the things done was to endorse the action of the temporary committee in appointing itself and in calling the caucus. Another was to adopt a tentative constitution. It is in reality little more than a preamble, but it gave a working basis, expressing enough and yet not too much.
Newspaper men have told me that the Sermon on the Mount is the finest bit of reporting in the history of writing because it tells a long story succinctly. Lieutenant Colonel Buxton and his committee on constitutions are certainly entitled to credit of the same type—for they tell a great deal in a few lines.
Henry D. Lindsley
Temporary Chairman, who presided at St. Louis
Temporary Chairman, who presided at St. Louis
The Paris Caucus This gathering had no time for official photographers. A half hour before a session began one slipped in and took this picture with more than half the caucus delegates absent
Here's the tentative constitution under which [Pg 19]the Legion worked—it was read by Lieutenant Colonel Bolles:
"We, the members of the Military and Naval Service of the United States of America in the great war, desiring to perpetuate the principles of Justice, Freedom, and Democracy for which we have fought, to inculcate the duty and obligation of the citizen to the State; to preserve the history and incidents of our participation in the war; and to cement the ties of comradeship formed in service, do propose to found and establish an association for the furtherance of the foregoing purposes:
"Those eligible to membership shall be: All officers and enlisted personnel in the Military and Naval Services of the United States of America at any time during the period from April 6, 1917, to November 11, 1918, inclusive; excepting however, persons leaving the service without an honorable discharge or persons who having been called into the service refused, failed, or attempted to evade the full performance of such service.
"The society shall consist of a national organization with subsidiary branches; one for each State, territory, and foreign possession of the United States as well as one in each foreign country where members of the national society may be [Pg 20]resident and who desire to associate themselves together.
"The officers of the society shall be a President, one or more Vice-Presidents, a Secretary, a Treasurer and a Board of Directors, which shall consist of the President, the Vice-Presidents, together with the chief executive of each subsidiary branch.
"The subsidiary branches shall organize and govern themselves in such manner as the membership of such subsidiary organizations shall determine upon except that the requirements and purposes of the permanent national constitution as adopted shall be complied with.
"The representation shall be on the basis of the actual enrollment in the subsidiary branches at all conventions after the adoption of a permanent constitution.
"Members present at the meeting of this committee as follows:
- "Lt. Col. G. Edward Buxton, Jr., Chairman
- "Lt. Col. T.W. Miller, Secretary
- "Major Redmond C. Stewart
- "Col. E.A. Gibbs
- "Lt. Col. W.H. Curtiss
- "Major J. Hall
- "Col. C.L. Ristine."[Pg 21]
There were many, many men in the A.E.F. respected and beloved, but none perhaps more than he who seconded a motion made by a private from S.O.S. base section, No. 4, that the constitution be adopted. The seconder asked to speak on the question. When he began he got the rapt attention which Bishop Brent, Senior Chaplain of the A.E.F., always won whether he talked to buck privates knee deep in trench water or the King in Buckingham Palace.
"It was a great soldier who said that the army has not merely a body but a soul and a conscience as well," he began. "I believe the conscience of the army is speaking in this committee's report. I believe the army's soul is speaking in it. I was present on Saturday, at the beginning of this caucus and I will tell you frankly that I was fearful at that moment lest you should create a great mechanism without adequate purposes. My fears have been wholly allayed and I see in the report of your committee the ideals not only of the army but of the nation adequately expressed and I wish to tell you gentlemen that so far as I have any ability to promote this great movement I give you my most hearty support. I believe that the army of to-day, when it goes back to citizen thinking and citizen acting, will be capable of contributing to the commonwealth of the United States so as to change [Pg 22]the character of the whole country and lift it up to a higher plane of political, industrial, and religious life. I happen to be at this moment leading in a movement in the army to promote the various ends that are so well expressed in the committee's report, in what is known as the 'Comrades in Service.' There are two ways of creating an organization; one is by forming the principles and leaving the body to take its own shape; the other by creating a machinery without stating your end and reach that end through the machinery. According to our democratic conception we have adopted the former or idealistic method. We are prepared to contribute to this army wide organization which is now brought into existence, all that we have to contribute. We are entirely loyal to your principles and methods of approach and we are quite willing to forego any attempt to make an organization which might become a rival to you. Between now and the time of demobilization there is a great opportunity for us to promote the principles which actuate you. We have already a temporary and provisional organization for the promotion of such principles; the creation of better citizenship along the lines so well expressed. We would like everyone who can to give support to that which we are endeavoring to do, while we ask all who come in with us to be prepared to throw in [Pg 23]their lot with this organization when it is perfected in the United States."
"The creation of better citizenship," Bishop Brent says. He wants every one who can, to give support to that; to "what we are trying to do."
If everyone could see just that in the Legion, if everyone will work for just that—better citizenship—the Legion's aim will be realized in its deepest and truest sense. Bishop Brent has a knack of hitting the nail on the head with such force that the sparks fly and by their light comes insight—ask anyone from out Manila-way if it isn't so. The short address was greeted with thunderous applause. The newly born Legion knew it had a champion and a worker in the Bishop.
Col. Wm. J. Donovan of the 165th Infantry, Forty-second Division headed the committee of fifteen which gave the final report on resolutions and organization. This report is reproduced here in full because it presaged the action of the American caucus and brought about the form of the Legion Government until November.
"Resolved: That an Executive Committee shall be selected, two (2) from each unit (as recognized in this caucus) and eight (8) to be selected by the Executive Committee; the two members, one officer and one enlisted man, to be selected from each unit to be named by the respective delegations [Pg 24]attending this caucus. Each unit shall present the names of committeemen who shall as far as possible represent, in point of residence, each State, Territory and possession of the United States and the District of Columbia.
"This Executive Committee shall have general power to represent the units now in foreign service, to determine its own quorum, to confer with committees from a similar caucus in the United States, to secure one general convention of persons entitled to membership under the tentative constitution, to elect its officers and appoint such sub-committees and give them such powers as may be proper and necessary.
"This Executive Committee acting in conjunction with the committee of the United States is specifically charged with the duty of fixing a date and place for holding a national convention, issuing a call for the holding of county and State conventions and providing a unit of representation and method of selection of delegates to the national convention, by the State conventions.
"The powers of this committee shall expire upon the organization of the permanent national convention.
"The committee is further charged with the duty of making known the existence and purpose of this organization, of stimulating interest in it, and of inviting the support of all those entitled to membership.
"No policy except in furtherance of the creation of a permanent organization having in mind the [Pg 25]desirability of unity of action in organizing all the American forces shall be adopted or carried out by the committees.
A meeting for the temporary and preliminary organization of the Executive Committee shall be held at this place immediately upon the adjournment of this caucus.
The Executive Committee may receive and add to its number two representatives from any division or equivalent unit not represented at this caucus."
As the result of the passage of this report it is interesting to note the personnel of the Executive Committee which the delegates selected and which is controlling the American Legion of the A.E.F., observing especially the large number of enlisted men; large in view of the difficulties experienced in getting such men to Paris.
The tentative name of this organization was not adopted without a great deal of discussion. All sorts of titles were suggested to the committee [Pg 27]which considered the matter. Some of them were:
- Comrades of the Great War
- Veterans of the Great War
- Liberty League
- Army of the Great War
- Legion of the Great War
- Great War Legion
- The Legion
- The American Comrades of the Great War
- The Great Legion
- The American Legion
The last was tentatively decided upon as the best name although there was considerable discussion on it. This discussion waxed particularly warm between a colonel and a corporal and it came to an end only when some hungry enlisted delegate braved the officer's rising ire to move an adjournment for lunch. The motion carried immediately and, true to the understanding made at the outset in regard to rank, the corporal clicked his heels together, stood at attention and saluted the colonel, when the latter passed him on the sidewalk exactly five minutes after he had been telling the colonel precisely what he thought of him and his opinions—at least as far as the name of the Veteran's Organization was concerned. I might add that this colonel was well under thirty-five years of age and that the corporal was only twenty-one.
And this brings to mind another striking feature of this most unusual gathering, which was the comparative youth of its membership. For instance [Pg 28]the two individuals who have taken from the beginning the leading parts in the movement, Bennett Clark, son of Champ Clark and a Lieutenant Colonel of infantry, and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., son of the ex-president and also a Colonel of infantry. They are respectively twenty-nine and thirty-one years of age, and one of the most brilliant speeches in the caucus was made by a captain of twenty-six.
It must not be understood from this rather dry recital of what took place at the Paris Caucus, this record of minutes and resolutions, that it was an entirely sedate and dignified gathering. On the contrary, Young America was there and quite often the impression which one gathered was that a dozen or so Big Brothers had been turned loose at once. A great many wild speeches were made and all sorts of ticklish questions were brought up. Chairman Clark broke two gavels and three times overturned his table. Everyone there was young. Peace was young. Few knew exactly, like Bishop Brent, just what was wanted. The whole project was new. Dozens of delegates wanted to speak; it was their first chance since April 6, 1917. In fact one man made two very violent speeches on the same subject, one in direct opposition to the other. He realized he was making a heated argument for both sides and finally sat down laughing [Pg 29]about it. Who was he? Who was the colonel who got wrought up over the proposed name? Who were the lieutenants, and who were any of these privates, captains, and sergeants?
"I don't know." Nobody knows.
Doubtless they have themselves forgotten what they said. No verbatim records are available now. In fact I am told that no record could have been kept, for many times two or three were speaking at once and the chairman was breaking the third commandment with his gavel. But this much everyone wanted, "A Veteran's Organization." This much everyone swore he would have, one that was neither political nor partisan, one that would perpetuate righteousness, insure "honor, faith, and a sure intent," and despite whatever bickering there might have been, despite whatever differences of opinion arose, when, with a tremendous "Aye," the motion to adjourn was carried, this Paris Caucus had accomplished a body politic and a soul of the type which Bishop Brent so clearly described.
To resume the story of actual accomplishment. The Executive Committee was given general power to represent the units in France, to confer with committees or representatives of the American Caucus as soon as these should be appointed, and, in conjunction with the latter, to issue a call for [Pg 30]the holding of county and State conventions and providing a unit of representation and method of selection of delegates to one general convention for the autumn of 1919, preferably November 11th, or Armistice Day.
The Executive Committee met immediately after the adjournment of the caucus and elected Colonel Foreman of the Thirty-third Division, Chairman; Lt. Colonel George A. White, Forty-first Division, Secretary and Major R.C. Patterson, Paris Command, Assistant Secretary. Lt. Col. White, Col. Wood, Major R.C. Patterson, and Lt. L.R. Farrell were elected permanent members at large of the Executive Committee.
Then from this executive committee a committee of fifteen was chosen for the purpose of expediting the work which had been assigned to the larger committee, it being easier to assemble fifteen men than the larger number. The committee of fifteen elected Col. Bennett Clark as its chairman.
At the first meeting of the committee of fifteen a hope was expressed that the caucus in America would take similar action in the appointment of an executive committee, which would in turn delegate its authority to a smaller committee for working purposes. Just exactly how this worked out, is later described.