Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Birth of the Legion by George Seay Wheat, Chapter V, (post #6)



All during the morning of May 8th that delegation was constantly getting together with this delegation; this leader conferring with that one; was this question going to come up, and what would be done if that question was tabled? Everybody interested, everybody excited, everybody waiting to see the other fellow's hand at the show-down, which was scheduled for the Shubert-Jefferson Theater at half-past two o'clock in the afternoon. Of course, everybody had found out the previous evening that every card in the pack was red, white, and blue, and that, from the very beginning of the game, an attempt had been made to keep the knaves out. As a matter of fact, they'd never been in, but the new Bills who made up the delegations to this caucus were going to look everybody over mighty carefully before any serious playing was done.
A flashlight photograph of the gathering was made, but this caucus was not one that could be pictured by the camera at all accurately. The outstanding feature of this great get together was the spirit of the men, and that no camera could catch.
Three large wooden tiers of seats, the kind the circus has under canvas, were built in a sort of semicircular fashion around the large stage. The New York delegation occupied one of these tiers; the Ohioans another, while the third was built for distinguished guests. If any distinguished guests came they were entirely put out of the limelight by the audience, for this was one show which was enacted before the footlights rather than behind them, and, with one or two exceptions the star performing took place where the spectators usually sit. In fact, the only spectators that I saw were the newspaper men, seated at tables within the corral formed by the tiers. All of them had been in the army or navy or had seen the big show abroad as war correspondents.
"Young Teddy," as they called him, was manifestly surprised at the ovation and tried repeatedly to get the crowd quiet. He wanted to be pleasant and yet he wanted order and so between knocks with his gavel he smiled. And a very engaging smile it was, too.
"Gentlemen," he pleaded. "Gentlemen, a little order." Finally there was comparative quiet. "Now let's proceed to the business of the meeting. The floor is open for nominations for permanent chairman of this caucus."
"In behalf of the State of Washington and representing the men of the rank and file of the Pacific Northwest, it gives me pleasure at this time to place for your consideration the name of a sterling patriot," he shouted. "The man I am going to place in nomination proved himself to be a one hundred per cent. true blooded American when his country's honor was assailed. He was among the first who placed himself in the front-line trenches, he was wounded twice, he was ready and willing to make the supreme sacrifice in order that this world might be made safe for democracy. I deem it an honor and a privilege, and the Pacific Northwest deems it an honor and a privilege to place in nomination the worthy son of a worthy sire—Theodore Roosevelt."
The crowd seemed to know all along who Jack meant and it held its enthusiasm in tether as best it could. But when Sullivan got to the word Theodore, the Roosevelt was drowned out in the mightiest cheer that is possible for eight or nine hundred throats to utter. The second to the motion, made by Colonel Luke Lea of Tennessee, wasn't heard at all. This time it took Colonel Roosevelt more than two minutes to get order.
But the "gang wouldn't hear to it." Somebody raised the old cry:
"We want Teddy!" "We want Teddy!" "We want Teddy!" they chanted in unison. Bedlam broke loose at that. Men stood on their seats and waved their hats and handkerchiefs; some took their collars and neckties off; some wept, some cursed for sheer joy and others—I believe that when Gabriel blows his horn and all the dead arise that some of the men who attended that caucus will try to make a speech! These speeches were going on four and five at a time during the entire hullabaloo. It didn't seem to matter in the least to the speakers that they weren't being heard. They couldn't hear themselves. They added a little to the noise and that satisfied the crowd and seemed to satisfy them.
"Please, please let me talk," pleaded Colonel Roosevelt. He finally got his plea over by means of the sign language.
The din started again.
"No, no, gentlemen," shouted the Colonel. "I want to withdraw. It is my earnest wish. It is my absolute determination."
But the caucus seemed equally determined. "We want Teddy!" "We're going to have Teddy!" "You got this thing going, you ought to run it." Colonel Roosevelt paced up and down the stage, trying his best to silence them. Then, during the din, one by one some of his oldest friends went to him and begged him to accede to the crowd's wish. "Take it Ted," they urged. "Take it." That underslung jaw of the young Colonel's became rigid.
"I won't do it. I can't do it," he answered.
Then someone managed to make a motion that the nomination of Colonel Roosevelt be made unanimous. It was seconded and made extremely unanimous.
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Group on the Stage at St. Louis Caucus
"[Pg 61]Then, gentlemen, I accept and I resign," Colonel Roosevelt said. "I want quiet for a moment here on this situation. This is something that I have thought about and have given my most earnest consideration. I am positive I am right on it. We must not have creep into this situation, in which we all believe from the bottom of our hearts, the slightest suspicion in the country at large. I don't think there is any suspicion among us that anyone is trying to use it for his personal advancement. But it is absolutely essential that this spirit be proven. I am going to stick by this from the beginning down to the very end because, in my opinion, we have got to create to-day the impression all over the country on which this organization will carry on and serve a great purpose for years to come."
Again there were outbursts of applause for the Colonel. "We want Teddy!" "We want Teddy!" the crowd cried again and again. Men ran to the stage from the orchestra seats and even from the second balcony.
"Take it, Colonel. You ought to take it," they urged.
What the Colonel answered couldn't be heard but the jaw was working and the head was shaking vigorously.
"You oughtn't to take it, Colonel," one of them whispered. "If you don't, it will give the lie to those who are saying the Legion is being conducted for your special political benefit."
"I haven't the slightest intention of taking it," he answered back.
He didn't take it and he nailed the lie that the Legion was started to further his own selfish ends.
On motion of Colonel E. Lester Jones of the District of Columbia the nominations were reopened again.
Sergeant Haines of Maine put up the name of Colonel Henry D. Lindsley, a banker of Dallas, Texas, and a prominent Southern Democrat, for permanent chairman. Think of it! A man from Maine nominating a Southern Democrat! One of the Ohio delegation seconded the nomination. Think of that too! Colonel Claud Birkhead of San Antonio, Texas, leader of the Texas delegation "thirded" the nomination. He told Colonel Lindsley's record. The Colonel had been Mayor of his home city, and during the war had served his country so well in France that he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He and Major Willard Straight, now dead, had started the War Risk Insurance Bureau abroad and, at the time of the caucus, Colonel Lindsley was the head [Pg 63]of the Bureau under the Treasury Department in Washington.
Minutes of a meeting usually are dry but here I am going to quote directly from them because they tell the story in the most vivid way. Fancy between the lines, please, dozens of cheers, a couple of rebel yells, a great deal of talking and shouting for "T.R.!" "T.R.!" and a Babelous babble that ebbed or flowed according to the strength Colonel Roosevelt used in wielding his gavel.
Colonel Jones (of Washington, D.C.): "Mr. Chairman, I personally feel, and I think I voice the unanimous sentiment of this organization, that your withdrawal is a mistake. We are not only sincere, but we are telling you what is in the bottom of our hearts. We are weighing also the sincerity which you have expressed, and in deference to your wishes, which I know have not arisen spontaneously but which you have talked about for some time, regarding the chairmanship of this committee, I think we should not embarrass you further. I have one in mind who I feel is going to be a man who will do credit to this organization—"
The Chairman: "Gentlemen, can't you see how it is? I can't possibly change my convictions. I can't go back on what I have told you without everybody, who doesn't understand the situation here, feeling that I have just come out here to make a grandstand play. I am right. I am absolutely sincere and right."
A motion was made that Colonel Theodore Roosevelt temporarily yield the chair to Colonel Bennett Clark.
Colonel Bennett Clark: "It is very evident what the desire of this convention is. I know that Colonel Lindsley of Texas was only put in nomination in response to the express wishes and repeated determination of Colonel Roosevelt. I think that that explanation should be made in justice to Colonel Lindsley. I think that Colonel Roosevelt should take this chairmanship or if he doesn't want to take it he should be made to take it. (Applause.) The chair will recognize a motion to that effect."
Captain Boyce (of New York shouting to a yelling audience): "What is the use of our acting like a lot of kids? Just one minute; only one man can talk at a time and get anywhere. Colonel Roosevelt will not take it."
Cries of approval from the audience and a request for the question.
Colonel Bennett Clark: "On that the chair will take the responsibility of ordering a roll call. (Applause.) The Secretary will call the roll."
Secretary Wood: "The motion is that Colonel Roosevelt be nominated by acclamation. The chairman has directed me to call the roll by States. Alabama—"
A call for a point of order.
Delegate: "After nominations have been made and closed a roll call cannot be taken."
Colonel Clark: "The chair was fully aware that he was proceeding outside of parliamentary law because it was the unanimous wish of the convention."
Mr. Sullivan: "I move that a roll call be made on the original nominations."
Colonel Clark: "Colonel Roosevelt has expressed to me his absolute desire that that not be done. He refuses to enter into a contest with Colonel Lindsley in any way."
Colonel Clark: "The chair is informed that while he was on the way up here a motion was carried to reopen nominations after the resignation of Colonel Roosevelt. Now nominations are again in order."
Major Samuel D. Royce (Indiana): "On behalf of the State of Indiana, I nominate Colonel Theodore Roosevelt."
The motion was seconded.
Colonel Clark: "The gentleman from the District of Columbia has the floor. Others please be quiet."
Here I must inject my story into the minutes again. Colonel Roosevelt saw the convention was "getting away to a Roosevelt finish" again, to use a racing term, and he sent a hurry call to the Arizona delegation for Colonel Jack Greenway.
Jack Greenway followed the elder Roosevelt up San Juan hill. He wears underneath his civilian coat to-day, but right over his heart, a Distinguished Service Cross won at Cantigny.
"Jack, for Heaven's sake, tell them I won't take it," Colonel Roosevelt plead.
Colonel Jack waving one arm at the chairman and another at the audience strode to the center of the stage.
The minutes read:
Colonel Jack Greenway: "Will you give me the floor? I won't keep you five minutes.
"My name is Greenway but that doesn't mean anything to you. Gentlemen, Colonel Roosevelt has said that he is not going to take the nomination of the caucus and you can take it from me that he is not going to do it. Now wait a minute. Whoa! Quit yelling! I know this Roosevelt outfit and when they say something they mean it. I followed his daddy through Cuba and I know. I saw this boy in the first division at Cantigny and on the Toul Front and I know that he means he is not going to take the chairmanship of this temporary caucus. There is a big misunderstanding about what you are trying to do. I have just talked to Colonel Roosevelt and he says that he will not be a candidate for the temporary caucus, but if, after all the boys come home at the convention in November, it is still the desire of that body as a whole, he will give the matter reconsideration." (Applause.)
Colonel Roosevelt resumes the chairmanship.
"Gentlemen, I believe the nominations were reopened."
Now I must again put the minutes by for a moment, for Bill has come to the stage and what he says doesn't get into the minutes, although I wish his remarks were there:
"That was pretty fine in him," Bill said, pointing to Colonel Roosevelt. I nodded only, for somehow this whole thing had got to me pretty strong and I felt like crying for some unaccountable reason.
"And then he gives his family the credit for all this yelling," Bill was saying. "We like his family all right, but say, this wasn't to compliment his family, not by a darn sight. Why, you know that young Colonel's got a h—— of a fine record himself—"
Sergeant Sullivan got up and tried to withdraw in favor of Colonel Lindsley, and Colonel Lindsley did the same thing and each was refused the opportunity. Colonel Lindsley then took the floor. "Comrades," he said, "I want you to know that I came here for one man for the chairman of this caucus, and that man was Theodore Roosevelt. He has refused it absolutely. I appreciate the support that has been given to my name. If honored with the chairmanship I shall be glad to serve, but it is important that we get to business immediately. I am certain that Mr. Sullivan will make an excellent presiding officer. If I had the right, I should be glad to withdraw my name in his favor. But the point is, gentlemen, let's get to business. This is the greatest meeting that has ever gathered in the United States, and it is not so material who is chairman of the meeting as it is to proceed to business."
While the roll is being called let's glance around the theater again. Most of the men in uniform are enlisted men. It is difficult to tell at a glance just what rank or rating the majority of those present held in the army or navy because in civilian clothing the officer and the man are indistinguishable. I mean to say that our army [Pg 70]was different from most other military establishments. Being primarily a citizen affair it was really representative. It was the desire of the temporary committee that sixty per cent. of the delegates should be enlisted men and when the call for the caucus was issued that was set forth most plainly. No one seems to have taken the trouble to check the thing up at the caucus. Anyone desiring to do so can find the information in this volume. I was interested at the opening of the caucus to know just what the percentage was, but after it got into swing it didn't make any difference. No one cared. There was talk (among officers) of making an enlisted man permanent chairman. The only persons that I heard objecting to such a procedure were the enlisted men themselves.
"We've forgotten all that stuff about rank. If the officers insist on an enlisted man they'll make a mistake. We want the best man and because we're in the majority in the organization we don't want to discriminate against the officer. Taken as a whole, he was a mighty fine sort."
Colonel Roosevelt promptly put Sullivan's name in nomination for vice-chairman. Mr. Abbott of Ohio seconded it and further moved that the sergeant's election be made unanimous. Sergeant Jack Sullivan was elected by acclamation. Then Colonel Wood was chosen secretary, the rules of the House of Representatives were decided upon to govern the procedure, and debate was limited to five minutes.
Insistence on that point was unnecessary. Our new American back from the wars has been too accustomed to action to like words that aren't concise and aimed right at the heart of the point. There was a good deal of noise and talk at this particular juncture and someone moved the appointment of a sergeant at arms. Captain A.L. Boyce of Boyce's Tigers (those young men who drilled so persistently in Central Park in New York preparing for the war) was picked. While this guardian of the peace was being appointed at least five gentlemen from as many delegations started to speak at once, perhaps against the five-minute debate rule, and in the confusion a delegate, whom Checkers might have described as carrying a load he should have [Pg 72]made three trips with, took the platform and began something that sounded about as intelligible as Cicero's oration against Catiline in the original.
"Do I understand, Mr. Chairman, that a sergeant at arms has been appointed?" shouted Mr. J.L. Walsh of the Pennsylvania delegation.
"That's right," answered the chairman.
"Then let's have him get busy," rejoined Mr. Walsh. "We didn't come down here for a vaudeville show or to be entertained by some boob, because we've got boobs back home."
After this remark, the minutes read "Laughter and applause" but that doesn't half describe it.
Captain Boyce "got busy" and if the minutes could record the result of his actions they would probably read "Order restored—almost. Quieter, for a time."
Colonel Lindsley made a splendid presiding officer. None could have done better, but as the stenographer who took the minutes remarked (and she was convention-worn because she had attended so many): "This is the funnest meeting I ever wrote up." Right. It was the funniest meeting—funny being used in the sense of unusual as the stenographer meant it—that anyone ever saw. In fact it was unique; absolutely the only one of its kind. Because the delegates were [Pg 73]unique. There never was anything like them in all the history of the country. They had gone into training camps like Bill, very tired, anæmic, with a shop and office pallor; and they came out of the war like Bill,—new, virile, interested, placing a value on themselves which would have been unthinkable prior to April 6, 1917.
But they placed a greater value on this organization which was so near the heart of all of them. No better proof of it can be shown than the incident which has just been described, viz., the refusal of Theodore Roosevelt to be the permanent chairman. Although I do not pretend to be able to explain the processes of thought and reasoning which led Colonel Roosevelt to take the action he did, still I do know this much! There are very few young men who would have been so deaf to the plaudits of the multitude, to the advice of old friends and to the still small voice of personal ambition as he was in refusing. I maintain that this refusal was by no means altogether prompted by anything of an hereditary nature but, rather, by the experiences and environment which had been Colonel Roosevelt's during the war. It took more than an under-slung jaw and a rugged Rooseveltian determination to refuse this great honor. It took discipline, and Colonel Roosevelt knew how to inflict that upon himself just as he [Pg 74]did upon his troops whenever it was wise and necessary.
In much smaller, but no less important matters, did I see other men practice discipline upon themselves. I saw men forego the discussion of subjects in which they believed with all their hearts and with all their minds solely for the purpose of doing nothing that would tend to disrupt the Caucus or give the impression throughout the United States that the men who had stuck together so closely in times of daring and danger could not still stick and face, as a band of brothers in the American Legion, any perils or pitfalls which peace might hold for this country. Therefore, it seems to me that Colonel Roosevelt's action was more than a manifestation of his own sterling determination to do nothing which might hurt the Legion. It was archtypical.
Major Hamilton Fish of New York called attention to the fact that the navy was unrepresented in the offices of the caucus and moved that a second vice-chairman should be appointed from that branch of the service. A delegate from Missouri seconded the motion and amended it to read that a third vice-chairman should be appointed from the marine corps.
"Gentlemen," said one dignified delegate (I don't know who let him in, because just from the way he said "gentlemen" we all knew that once in his life he had practiced oratory before the bureau mirror), "I want to place in nomination the name of a man who is true blue—"
"Name him," shouted the crowd.
"He is not only true blue but he is thoroughly everything he ought to be in addition—" continued the orator, coldly trying to squelch the crowd.
"Name him." "Shut up." "Aw, sit down." "Who wants to listen to such 'bull' as that?"
Each of those sentences was roared by a different man.
Thus the way of orators in the caucus!
The navy men who were nominated consisted of Goerke of New York; Goldberg, Illinois; Chenoweth, Alabama; Almon, Montana; Humphrey, New Mexico; McGrath, New Jersey; and Evans of Kentucky. The secretary took the vote by delegations. When Goerke got a vote the New York crowd yelled itself hoarse; New Mexico did the same for Humphrey; Alabama cheered like mad for Chenoweth and it wasn't long before everybody picked out his candidate and yelled furiously every time he got a vote. The New Mexico delegation occupied a proscenium box but Humphrey wasn't prominent enough there to suit his delegation. Before anyone thoroughly realized what was happening, Seaman Humphrey appeared on the stage, borne on the shoulders of two colonels! Two men who had eagles on their shoulders, U.S. on their collars, and gold chevrons on their left sleeves carried on their shoulders a "gob," a sailorman, a deck-swabbing bluejacket, as he called himself.
It was the beginning of a cavalcade of noise that fairly made ear drums ache, and, incidentally, proved a signal for the backers of other candidates. Goerke soon was lifted aloft by a half dozen New Yorkers; Chenoweth was exhibited to the general view from the section of the orchestra occupied by his delegation, while Illinois [Pg 77]paraded up and down the aisles with Goldberg. Colonel Lindsley hammered the speaker's table almost to pieces in an attempt to get order and then gave it up for a few minutes as a bad job. Captain Boyce succeeded in getting a semblance of it, when everybody got tired of carrying the candidates and of shouting. Then the secretary again started taking the vote by delegations. No one of the candidates received a majority of the votes which was necessary under the procedure adopted at the beginning of the caucus. Then began the withdrawals. This State withdrew its vote from Goerke and cast it for Humphrey; Chenoweth withdrew from the race and his vote went to Goerke, et cetera. A similar situation resulted on the second count and finally Goerke withdrew in favor of Humphrey. When Evans took the same action, Humphrey (first name Fred), described as the "rough-riding sailor from New Mexico," was elected.
Humphrey's speech of acceptance delighted the hearts of those who had forced the would-be orator to sit down at the beginning of the nominations.
"Mr. Chairman, gobs, soldiers, and marines," Humphrey said: "I am most glad and gracious to accept this honorary position and I will do everything that a deck-swabbing sailorman can do to fill it."
The personnel of these committees will be found elsewhere.
Thursday evening and Friday morning were devoted largely to committee meetings and different sections of the country came together to discuss matters of particular interest to special localities. For instance, the Western delegations discussed the question of Bolshevism, because the symptoms of this mad disease had been more apparent in that section of the country than in any other. The question of color was practically decided in a meeting of the Executive Committee and was ratified later by various delegations representing the Southern States. Everybody was pleased. An attempt was made by the leaders of each delegation to keep such questions as might be "loaded with dynamite" off the actual floor of the caucus so that those lacking in discretion might not have the opportunity to throw the caucus into an uproar.[Pg 79]
In fact it was this spirit—the desire on everybody's part to give in to a certain extent on any mooted question for the sake of general harmony that was a marked feature of the gathering. In the committee meetings were found delegates with radically different opinions on almost every question. It was not an uncommon thing, however, to see a delegate very heatedly advocate a certain side of an issue; listen to the opposing side, rise, and with equal heat and fervency advocate the opposite point of view.
This spirit is highly significant. It will be one of the Legion's greatest powers. It was and is due to the fact that these new Americans are not cursed with fixed ideas. They have seen too much, lived through too much in their comparatively short lives to be narrow-minded. Over in the A.E.F. the former hod-carrier often turned out to be too good as a construction manager for any officer to despise his opinions. One noticeable characteristic of the American Legion delegate was the respect which he had for the other man's views and his willingness to admit outright that he was wrong in a thing or to go at least halfway with the opponent of his particular ideas. This was the saving grace of the caucus and this will be the saving grace of the Legion for the spirit which was manifested there is the spirit [Pg 80]which will prevail at Minneapolis, and for always, because the American sailor and soldier will not change.

It was interesting to see these modern American soldiers side by side with the veterans of the Civil War. The Grand Army of the Republic Post, the local Bivouac of the United Confederate Veterans, and the Spanish War Veterans gave a joint reception for the delegates at the Missouri Athletic Club which included a smoker and a vaudeville entertainment furnished by the War Camp Community Service.

No comments:

Post a Comment