Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Birth of the Legion by George Seay Wheat, Chapter VIII, (post #9)



Soon after the caucus opened on Saturday morning, May 10, the minutes read as follows:
The Chairman: "Gentlemen, before we have the report of the Resolutions Committee, I want to say to those who were not of the Executive Committee and in its meeting last night, that there seemed to me to be there a more splendid crystallization of the real purpose of this caucus and a foresight into what it is going to mean, not only to these four millions of men but to the people of the United States for the next half century, than I have ever heard, and at the request of a number of those who were there at that meeting, I am going to ask one of them to interpret to you in just a few minutes, as well as he can, and he did it wonderfully well last night, the spirit that we believed in that meeting is your spirit here to-day and the spirit that is going out from this caucus as a slogan to all American citizens and through them to the world, indicating the purposes for which we fought, and more [Pg 109]than that, the purposes for which American manhood stands and for which it will fight again, if necessary, the heritage we will hand down to our children, and I will ask this gentleman to present that thought to you."
Chaplain W. Inzer (of Alabama): "Gentlemen, I appreciate this opportunity more than I have words to say, and if you will only be as sympathetic with me for these minutes as that Executive Committee was last night, I will do my best to interpret the spirit and the mind of this convention as I see it and as I saw it last night. I never had a more sympathetic audience, it seemed to me, or a more psychological moment in which to speak than that was last night and I appreciate the spirit of the brethren who asked me to come out and make this talk this morning and I am going to try my best to interpret it as I saw it last night.
"There has been an undercurrent all through this Convention. Somebody has been afraid that we are going to do something or pop some lid off that will bust the thing and I have been, as I said last night, sometimes scared almost to death. I think I could personally say that I wanted to make about seventy-four speeches in the two days that I have been here. I didn't do it but I was waiting and praying for the psychological hour to arrive and[Pg 110] I believe that that hour came last night when this Executive Committee really got together and got something concrete before them, and I think that the whole Convention comes together this morning ready to take up matters of importance and leave off matters that should not be taken up, and to solidify this body in a great spirit of Americanism that shall last for fifty years as the greatest organization that the world has ever known." (Applause.) "Now the keyword that I want to say in the beginning is, at all costs we want to save this organization. We do not want anything to arise to-day that will in any way mar the spirit of this great assembly and the work that it is going to do in the future. While you were deliberating here these past two days some of you thought only of this hour and this moment, but, gentlemen, I had an eye cast into the future and I was dreaming dreams and seeing visions of the years that are to come and the wonderful work, the wonderful influence, and the mighty power that this organization is going to have and exert upon this nation and upon the whole world, and I want you to think of it in these terms. This convention is a baby and we must not choke this baby. You can't give a young baby a gallon of castor oil the first week. It only requires castoria, that is all the first week. It can stand with a little mother's milk, and I want [Pg 111]you to feel that way about it to-day." (Laughter and Applause.)
"Our first duty is beyond the shadow of a doubt to get this infant on its legs, and once we get it on its legs, it will be like the mighty Niagara Falls, there isn't anything in the world can dam it up. It will be a power that shall be known, and with influence all over America and for good all over the world. Let's be quiet and let's be sensible to-day until we get this infant on his legs. He's just a recruit, a raw recruit, and he has to be trained and we are going to do that now.
"Gentlemen, I want to say just here, if you can only think about this Legion—the chairman spoke of it last night to me—as the jewel of the ages. I believe that is the best interpretation I know. I cannot say anything greater than this: I believe God raised up America for this great hour; I can say that the strong young man of the time is to be the American Legion in this country and in the world.
"What the great seers of the past ages have dreamed and what they have planned and longed for, the opportunity that they sought, have suddenly been placed and in our hands. Are we going to be great men and big men? Will we arise to the dignity and be worthy of the occasion?
"I believe that we will. Oh, men, if I might [Pg 112]make it plain to you that it seems to me I stand on the very rim of creation and I am speaking there to an angel who has never yet been able to see light. I said: 'Angel, what are you doing here?' and he said: 'I was placed here when God created this world'; and he said: 'God sent me to look down upon this world and report to him at one special time, and that one time only,' and I said: 'What was to be the nature of that report?' He said: 'God made man in His own image and God Himself is a being of knowledge, love, truth, democracy, and peace,' and He said to that angel, 'Don't you ever leave that world until you see dawn, until you see that man has come up to the place where he will begin to measure up to what I expected of him,' and that angel said to me, 'I have sat here through all the ages and I have seen times when I thought that the sunlight of God's great knowledge and love and truth was going to come over the hills and then some being like the Kaiser or Alexander or Napoleon or some one that was of a Bolsheviki type would rise up and retard it and the sun could never rise,' but he said: 'Thank God on April 6, 1917, I reported back to God when America entered this war that I had seen the dawn.' (Applause.)
"So the first thing we are to do to-day is to get a great spirit, men, a great spirit that we can carry back. All the other questions will be ironed out in due time. Everything will be straightened out when we realize that five million men are going to be organized with the same spirit of love and loyalty and devotion and sacrifice and democracy that characterized their lives on the battlefield. They will never rest until they make this whole world bloom in love, democracy, peace and prosperity and equality and brotherhood for all mankind. That is what we are going to do and that is what this assembly means to-day. It is the world's great opportunity and your privilege to share with it.
"Now, then, I want to say that the soldier spirit is going to be my spirit and I believe it is going to be your spirit. When Wilson and the other men called us to the war, I was glad and ready immediately to offer my life because of the great principle. I said to those men last night in that Executive Committee and I mean it to-day, I'd gladly lay down my life to-day if laying down my life meant that this Legion should live and fulfill [Pg 114]my dreams of its service to the country for these next fifty years. (Applause.) So do you think I want anything to come up here that would disrupt this body? Never! Do you think I want to make a fiery speech about something because it is my personal conviction? No, I have a hundred personal convictions that I would like to see operating in the United States and this convention, but it isn't the time and I am not going to bring them up here. I don't want to say anything that will keep all of us from pulling together like a military army for the great things that this convention in the future is going to stand for. So my final word is this: That this day, we get right down to business and that we omit everything that we can omit pertaining to the permanent policy of this organization that we cannot all immediately agree upon.
"If there is going to be anything discussed here to-day that everybody in this convention won't immediately agree upon and would hinder us from sending out to the nation word that we stand together and that we are going to pull together, that we caught a mighty vision and that we have gained the great spirit, then, brethren, let's carry that thing over until November when all the boys come home and then we will discuss it there. There are many things to-day that we can discuss that are [Pg 115]important and fundamental and that are urgently needed in our nation this hour. Let's take those things up and get down to business on it to-day. Every Executive Member from each State pledged the chairman last night that he was going to act as a sergeant-at-arms in his delegation and hold the convention in order to-day. We are going to do the right thing and we won't be 'busted' by anything or by anybody, and when anything comes up that isn't the right thing for us to do to make a great impression on America, and the world, we will say hold that thing over until the baby is strong enough to do it right.
"I beg you to do those things. Somebody said: 'What are the things we can do to-day?' We mentioned them last night.
"Jack Sullivan has problems out there that we must meet this very day. One of those is this Bolsheviki business. We are going to pass resolutions this very day, I believe, asking the United States in Congress to pass a bill for immediate action of deporting every one of those Bolsheviki or I.W.W.'s out yonder." (Prolonged Applause.)
"I was naturalization officer for our regiment and that division out there and I have had those scamps stand up and say: 'Yes, I have been here fourteen years and have lived on the fat of the land, but we don't want to fight,' and they would deny citizenship papers or cancel their first papers.
"Now that the war is over, they are in lucrative positions and our boys haven't got jobs; we've got to say, send those scamps to hell." (Prolonged Applause.)
"The other question that we might decide here to-day is what we are going to do about jobs for our returned soldiers. In my city we have already said: 'Look here, man, you'd better post every job that is open and post it in the place where we get employment for returned soldiers. And they have gotten down to that. We want to talk about that to-day and get down to business—the business of getting jobs for our men, and then we want to care for those who come back without money. We want to help them get their allotment and get their $60 bonus, and we want to care for the wounded.
"But these other things—excuse me, I can't help but say brethren, because I am a preacher, but you are my brethren, I thank God you are and I love you like I love the brethren of my church. There is some fellow here who might want to spring something because he knows it would be a lot of fun. Oh, brethren, let's not have any fun with the baby to-day. (Laughter and Applause.) We have all we can do to-day. We have all we can do if we do those things that we are all united upon and agreed upon. Those things which may have what they call a nigger in the woodpile, when they come up, let's say that is something we are going to talk about later when the boys get home in November, when everybody is settled down and we have thought it through and talked about it in [Pg 118]our State organizations and we will come up with solidified ideas and the great spirit will have gripped us and we will know where we stand and will know our power and strength.
"Brethren, I say let's cut out every last bit of hoodlumism to-day. It is the zero hour. Let's stand together. If we don't carry anything else home, let's go home and say we are for America, that we caught the spirit and the vision and you can't stop us with anything in the world. I thank you." (Audience rises and applauds.)
That speech has been given in full not only for the reasons which have been stated before but because it is archtypical of the deep-seated, serious, and high-minded soul of the New American, born of the war.
"Mr. Chairman, it seems that Illinois caught the spirit of the speaker who has just seated himself, in advance."
Before the applause over Inzer's speech had ended and before we realized it, Mr. Cummings of Illinois had the floor. He said that the Illinois delegation had been ungracious in accepting Colonel Herbert's explanation of his remarks the previous day.
Gaspar Bacon

Three State Chairmen

John F.J. Herbert
Henry G. Mathewson
Cornelius W. Wickersham
New York
"I say that the American Legion is bigger than any man; it is bigger than any State; it is bigger than any combination of States; it is the unified action of the millions of men who were willing to sacrifice their lives, their fortunes, their all on the altar of this country for the cause of democracy, to make the world safe for democracy, and they are going to help us make Illinois come to the front and clean its skirts of the stigma which is attached. We know that you are going to help us in it, and with the support of the American Legion, nothing will stop us from cleaning our skirts, from washing our dirty linen at home. When the next convention of the American Legion is held, as soon as we have had an opportunity or the boys in khaki and blue have had an opportunity to give an honest expression of views on the question of Burgomaster[Pg 120] Thompson, we will come through with clean skirts, we will stand before you without a question as to the patriotism of the great City of Chicago and the State of Illinois. We are for the American Legion first, last, and all the time, and I will pledge Illinois' seven hundred thousand soldiers who have gone to the front for the colors in this organization to a man."
"... and clean its skirts of the stigma which is attached and we know you are going to help us in it, for we will have the support of the American Legion and with that support when the boys from over there get back, nothing will stop us from cleaning our skirts...."

Attention is drawn specifically to that sentence, because it affords an excellent opportunity to explain the difference between politics and policies. The Legion has policies but it is not political. One prime policy is the demand for one hundred per cent. Americanism. Whoever or whatever cannot read that mark, be it Chicago's mayor or the Seattle Soldier's Council, the Legion's caution is "measure up." The Legion, as the Legion will not go into municipal politics in Chicago but the members of the various posts in that city like all other Legion members stand for one hundred per cent, simon-pure patriotism and regardless of party, [Pg 121]he who does not "measure up" had best beware. The Legion, as the Legion, never will endorse a political party or a party's candidate for office. But it will have platforms, it will have tenets, it will have principles. These platforms, tenets, and principles will be seen, felt, heard, and heeded by the voters of the United States. Furthermore, these platforms, tenets, and principles will be supported regardless of political party, political affiliations, or partisan sponsorship.

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