Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Birth of the Legion by George Seay Wheat, Chapter IX, (post #10)



The first of the committee reports of the morning was that of the Publication Committee. This report is perhaps not so interesting a document now as it may be in later years, when, with a circulation of millions weekly, the official organ will be a tremendous power for Americanism throughout the country, spreading in every home, in every vale and hamlet the same dragnet of Americanism as the draft law did, having in its tentacles the same power for culture, breadth of experience, and abolition of sectionalism.
In view of this, the report possesses tremendous potentialities. Here it is:
"The Committee on Publication recommends that this caucus of the American Legion inaugurate a national publication which shall be the Legion's exponent of Americanism; that this, the sole and only publication of the American Legion, be owned and directed by the Legion for and in the interest of all Americans; that the Publication Committee [Pg 123]be continued that it may proceed as organized with the details of founding this publication, with the advice and under the control of the Executive Committee of the American Legion which shall add such specially qualified members to the Publication Committee as it may see fit; that this publication shall be a National, nonpartisan, non-sectional organ for the service of the American people, a champion of Americanism which means independence, security, health, education, greater contentment, and progress for every patriot, to be the torch, the beacon light thrown into our hands by the Americans who fell, and held as a unique and living monument to that other legion which did not come back.
"(Signed) G.P. PutnamChairman.    
"Charles D. KelleySecretary."    
As an aside it may be interesting to say that there were at least half a dozen publishers, some with veteran journals already started, in St. Louis with the most alluring offers. Each wanted to have his publication designated as the official organ. Several other propositions were made, one syndicate offering to publish the magazine, bear the entire expense, give the Legion fifty per cent. of the stock, and allow it to control the editorial policy. All the syndicate wanted was the official endorsement. From other quarters came the word that a million dollars would be forthcoming, [Pg 124]if such a large amount was necessary, in order to start the publication, but those who would furnish it wanted some return, naturally. However the Publication Committee felt, as set forth in the resolutions, that the magazine must be entirely owned and solely controlled by the Legion. If it was worth a million dollars to anybody else, it certainly was worth conserving in every possible way for the Legion.
Again I am going to let the minutes take up the story. Some of the details which they give in the next few pages are illustrative of the interest and care which the caucus took when it came to important matters.
Secretary Wood: "The Committee on Resolutions begs to submit the following report:
"'General Principles and Creed—Recognizing the supreme obligation of the citizens to maintain our national honor and integrity, and being resolved that the fruits of the Great War shall not die, we who participated in the war in order that the principles of justice, freedom, and democracy may more completely direct and influence the daily lives of America's manhood, do announce our adherence to the following principles and purposes:
"'(a) To inculcate the duties and obligations of citizenship.
"'(c) To cement the ties of comradeship formed in service.
"'(d) To promote, assist, and protect the general welfare of all soldiers, sailors, and marines and those dependent upon them.
"'(e) To encourage the maintenance of individual and national efficiency to the end that the nation shall never fail in its obligations.
"'(f) To maintain the principle that undivided and uncompromising support of the constitution of the United States is the true test of loyalty.'" (Applause.)
The Chairman: "Do you desire to pass on that as read, gentlemen, or by paragraphs?"
Mr. Johnson (Rhode Island): "I move it be adopted as a whole."
Seconded by Mr. Black of New York.
Col. Herbert (Mass.): "I would like to ask for information: if there aren't more eligible to membership in the American Legion than are cited—soldiers, sailors, and marines?"
The Chairman: "The committee understands that covers everything. The direct eligibility comes up later."
Mr. Fish (of New York): "I make a motion to the effect that this report be laid on the table until the constitution has been adopted. There are points in this resolution that conflict with the preamble and by-laws of the constitution. I move you, Mr. Chairman, that the first paragraph of the resolution as read be laid on the table until after the constitution is adopted. I will amend my motion to that effect."
Col. Herbert: "I want to hear that reread."
Secretary Wood: "What I have read, and what I am about to read again, is the first paragraph of the report of the Resolutions Committee. There are many other paragraphs. The second one, for instance, is an endorsement of the Victory Liberty Loan. If you lay the whole report on the table we have to wait until later to consider resolutions as a whole. The first paragraph is as follows:"
Secretary read first paragraph.
Colonel Lea (of Tenn.): "If this report, or any part of it, is laid on the table it means final disposition of it under the rules of the House of Representatives. I don't think we want to do that until the report is read. As a substitute for the pending motion and amendment, I move that further reading and action of the report be suspended until after the report of the Committee on Constitution and By-Laws."
Seconded by Mr. Black of New York and carried.
The Chairman: "The Secretary will now proceed to read the resolutions."
Secretary Wood: "Endorsement of the Victory Liberty Loan.
"'Whereas, The Government of the United States has appealed to the country for financial support in order to provide the funds for expenditures made necessary in the prosecution of the war, and to reestablish the country upon a peace basis, therefore be it
"'Resolved that this caucus emphatically endorse the Victory Liberty Loan, and urges all Americans to promote the success of the loan in every manner possible.'"
The Chairman: "What is your pleasure with regard to that resolution?"
Seconded by Mr. Wickersham of New York and carried.
Secretary Wood: "Conscientious Objectors.
"'Resolved, that this caucus go on record as condemning the action of those responsible for protecting the men who refused full military service to the United States in accordance with the act of Congress of May 18, 1917, and who were tried by general court-martial, sentenced to prison and later fully pardoned, restored to duty and honorably discharged, with all back pay and allowances given them, and as condemning further the I.W.W.'s, international socialists, and anarchists in their effort to secure the release of these men already pardoned, and those still in prison, serving sentence, and be it further
"'Resolved, that this caucus requests a full and complete investigation by Congress of the trial and conviction of these parties and of their subsequent pardon." (Applause.)
Seconded by Luke Lea of Tennessee.
The Chairman: "The motion is now for the adoption of the resolution as read, substituting the word 'demand' for 'request.'"
Albert H. Wilson (of Idaho): "Gentlemen of this convention, before this is put to the body of this house, I want to offer a resolution that the man who convicted these men at Camp Funston be permitted to give the facts of those convictions and the facts of those discharges to the body of this house. I refer, gentlemen, to Major Foster, of Camp Funston, of the General Staff at Camp Funston, and I offer a resolution to that effect. Will you hear him?"
Assent from the audience.
Mr. Gaston: "I second that."
The Chairman: "It isn't necessary to have a resolution to that effect. The discussion would be germane to the question before the house."
"These men, and I want you to get the importance of this, are not ordinary, poor, misguided, fanatical men, but the large number of them were college graduates. Take the case of Lundy in Chicago and Berger and Greenberg and all of them. Seven of them were cases so serious that the court, of which I was a member, sentenced them to death. Within three weeks the order came from Washington restoring them to honorable duty. These men who were dismissed from Leavenworth and who were tried by this court made the statement before the court to prove their conscientious scruples that they did not accept pay from the Government, nor did they, but when they were dismissed at Fort Leavenworth and honorably restored to duty and given discharges with honor, they took every dollar and cent that the Government sent or the officials in Washington said should be paid to them and they carefully counted it and it amounted to between four and six hundred dollars each, and they went home with it.
(The caucus requests him to read it all.)
It is sent out to the press and to everyone. Here is a book that has the expressions before the court that all these men made and they stand on that as being proper.
"This letter says: 'The committee who sends you this letter are, for the most part, near relatives or close friends of young men now serving long terms in the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth because of loyalty of principle. Nearly all of them are your fellow workers and except for those in what we call the religious group,—trade unionists—the public knows little of their unhappy fate, even less than the other political or labor prisoners because they have been sent to prison by military court-martials and some have not even had the hostile publicity of a public trial in court.
"'The war is over; whether these men were right or wrong, they were utterly sincere. Even military prejudice has to concede that, and the sufferings they have unflinchingly borne prove it many times over, but the point for the country to get just now is that right or wrong, they cannot now [Pg 132]have any adverse effect upon the military policy of the Government to keep them in prison.' Here is the dangerous thing—'We are trying to educate public opinion, and particularly labor opinion, to the point where it will demand the release of these brave and sincere young men. We say "labor," because we know when labor really demands a thing, it gets done.' There is the dangerous thing, gentlemen, the direct connecting up of the I.W.W., the so-called international socialists and anarchists who were tried, convicted, and later pardoned by our War Department,—the direct connecting up between that element and those like the fellow who was sentenced to prison and who is sending out this letter, and this great and dangerous Bolshevism that is creeping into this country and is, I am afraid, more dangerous than many of us realize. I want to see this caucus go on record—don't be afraid—as strong as you can against this fellow. The officers who served on those courts know what we had to endure. We had to treat them respectfully; we were obliged to do that. Let me tell you a few things, if you don't know them, about what happened in the guardhouse among those men. They would not do a thing; they wouldn't make their own beds. They wouldn't flush the toilets in the guardhouse, and some red-blooded American soldiers had to go [Pg 133]and pull the chain for them. I say you can't send out a message to these people too strong in condemnation of this type and of the action of the War Department or whoever is responsible for the solace and the protection that has been thrown around the man who hid under the cloak of an act of Congress that was designed to take care of the conscientious objectors, and there is no conscientious objector under that act except a man whose religious creed forbade him to take part in the war in any way. I thank you." (Applause.)
The Chairman: "Gentlemen, the question has been called. All those in favor of the motion as amended will vote 'aye.'"
The motion was unanimously carried.
The general comment at the time was that Major Foster's address summed up the opinion of the caucus on the War Department's action in regard to the objector, conscientious or otherwise.
"One moment before the next resolution is read," he said: "I am informed that one of the newspapers of St. Louis has circulated blanks among the delegates asking them to indicate thereon how they intend to vote in the next national election in this country. I would point out to those who are gathered here that this is a very improper suggestion and that the action should be repudiated by the men here filling out none of these blanks."
This statement was greeted both with anger and applause, the former at the paper's action, the latter because of the chair's suggestion, and Mr. Wickersham of New York made a motion that none of the blanks should be filled out and that no delegate should take part in such a poll. It carried unanimously and with acclamation. The blanks were not filled out and the men distributing them were ordered to leave the theater, which they did.
Despite this fact, despite the motion of Major Wickersham, and its passage by acclamation, reports were circulated after the caucus, to the effect that a poll had been taken and that it showed so many votes for this man and so many votes for that one. The effect of that statement, while not doing widespread damage, caused the Legion leaders a great deal of embarrassment and a great deal of effort to correct the false impression among those not present at St. Louis to the effect that the caucus had a political complexion.
Following the refusal to allow a poll to be taken, the secretary read the following resolution:
"Whereas certain aliens during the emergency of the war sought to evade military duty by reason of their status as aliens, and
"Whereas, such an act indicates a lack on the part of such aliens of the proper spirit of Americanism, therefore be it
This resolution covered a subject very near the heart of Sergeant Jack Sullivan, the vice-chairman. He was on his feet immediately saying:
"I agree with the gentleman from Massachusetts, Comrade Herbert, that this is not the time to urge upon Congress but to demand of Congress and I offer you, sir, this as a substitute resolution:
"Whereas, there was a law passed by the Congress of these United States, July, 1918, known as an amendment to the Selective Service Act giving persons within the draft age who had taken out first papers for American citizenship the privilege of turning in said first papers to their local exemption board and thereby becoming exempt from service,
"Whereas, thousands of men within draft age who had been in this country for many years and had signified their intention to become citizens, took advantage of this law and thereby became exempted from military service, or were discharged from military service by reason thereof, and have taken lucrative positions in the mills, shipyards, and factories, and
"Whereas, in this great World War for Democracy the rank and file of the best of our American manhood have suffered and sacrificed themselves in order to uphold the principles upon which this country was founded and for which they were willing to give up their life's blood, if necessary, to preserve, and
"Resolved: That we, the American Legion in convention assembled in St. Louis, this 8th, 9th, and 10th day of May, 1919, numbering millions of red-blooded Americans, do demand the Congress of these United States to immediately enact a law to send these aliens who withdrew their first papers and thereby avoided service, back to the country from whence they came, for we want them not, neither do we need them. The country which we live in and were ready and are now ready and willing to fight for is good enough for us and this country, which they live in and prospered in, yet were unwilling to fight for, is too damned good for them to remain in. Therefore, be it further
"Resolved, that a copy of these resolutions be sent to each and every member of the House and Senate of our United States and a copy be given to the public press."
"Respectfully presented        
"(Signed) Sgt. Jack Sullivan.    
"Delegate from Seattle, State of Washington."    
"Now, gentlemen, I have a telegram from Seattle which I will read. It is addressed to Jack Sullivan, St. Louis.
"'Executive Board American Legion of Liberty authorizes you to advocate before the St. Louis Convention as part of the Americanization program, that the organization bring its influence to bear throughout the United States to secure enactment by Congress of laws making it possible to deport alien slackers who avoided military service by renouncing their citizenship and signing affidavits that they would return to the country from which they came. A bill providing for their deportation introduced by Senator Jones of Washington failed to pass the last session of Congress because the demand for its passage from the State of Washington was not backed up by other States. Demand upon senators and representatives from their own constituents that a law should be passed to deport these slackers would probably result in action by the special sessions of Congress of nearly three hundred aliens who escaped military service in Seattle by renouncing their right to become citizens. Twenty-seven per cent, were shown to be I.W.W.'s of the thousands who thus escaped military service. Throughout the country a large percentage are probably of the element which is seeking to undermine American institutions. They still remain despite their affidavits that they would leave the country and there is no existing law under which they can be deported. The first [Pg 139]move towards making this country one hundred per cent. American should be the elimination of aliens who are opposed to our Government and institutions and who poison the minds of others by their teachings. Every senator and representative should be urged to back legislation for the elimination of this element and we hope that this work will be adopted by the convention as part of the national program.
"'(Signed) American Legion of Liberty,        
"'Norman E. ColesSecretary.'"  
When Sullivan finished reading, he began one of the most stirring addresses made before the convention:
"I was born in the State of Massachusetts and I was taught that citizenship meant something. As a boy I went out West where I learned that American citizenship meant something to the people of the West.
"To-day we are here from all parts of the country. We are not from any section alone, because we are all Americans, This is an organization of Americans. This should be a country of Americans and if our citizenship means something, the swine who come from other countries should be taught that it means something like what McCrae said:
'"When from failing hands we throw the torch to you,Be yours to hold it high;If ye break faith with us who die,We shall not sleep though poppies grow in Flanders' field.'
"Let's make this unanimous and do it now and say to the boys in Siberia and France that we are going to see to it when they get back here that those damned alien slackers are not going to be here, or if they are, they are going to be on the dock at Hoboken to go back to their own countries because they don't belong here and we are not going to allow them to remain."
"Jack" Sullivan of Seattle
First Vice-Chairman of the St. Louis Caucus
Chaplain J.W. Inzer of Alabama
"The delegation from Ohio has authorized me to second this motion," he said. "This seems to be a unanimous caucus. There is harmony here. The most impressive fact in relation to this assembly is the militant spirit of Americanism that has been manifested. I chanced to be Assistant Adjutant of the 37th Division when the time came for the naturalization of aliens who were in the American Army. Thousands and thousands of young aliens came up and raised up their right hand and pledged fidelity to the American Constitution, and to fight for the supremacy of the American flag, but, there was a certain small element, a certain small percentage that refused to take the oath of allegiance and they appealed to the Constitution and their rights under the law and they were exempted from military service. And I say to you, gentlemen of this convention, any alien that will appeal to the law in order to avoid military duty has no right to the opportunity of peace in America." Here there was prolonged applause.
"Now, as Mr. Sullivan has suggested, let it not be said that when these boys that raised their right hand and took the oath of allegiance to the American flag return, that these contemptible skunks that demanded exemption under the law shall occupy the positions, which these truly loyal men should have. Let's give those positions to the returning American soldiers and the returning alien soldiers that fought for the American flag and helped us win the great victory." The applause given Sullivan was repeated.
Then the "Silver Lining," Chaplain Inzer, strode upon the stage. This time he was a very stern Silver Lining, and what he had to say he said with a vigor which characterized his speeches all during the convention.
"I want to offer an amendment," he said. "Mr. Sullivan's resolution does not cover the whole ground. As Naturalization Officer of the 14th Infantry, I happen to be observing enough to know that there are other men that ought to be included in this list. Often we called certain foreigners together who had been drafted and said, 'Now, men, we are going to go overseas in a short while. How long have you been in this country?'
"'How long have you been here?' to another.
"'I have been here so and so,' he answered.
"'All right, now,' we said, 'this has been your country. If we hadn't gone to war, you would have expected to be here.'
"'But we want to go home now.'
"'If you go home will you fight for your country?'
"'We don't know.'
"And they absolutely refused to take out citizenship papers. How do we know them? As Naturalization Officer I marked on every one of those papers. 'This man, though he has been here for four years or ten years refused naturalization in the hope that he might avoid overseas service.' Now, then, I move that we include in that motion that the files be gone through and every man who refused citizenship, who was a native of any other country, but adopted this country and refused to take out the citizenship papers we offered him, after he had been brought into the army by the draft, also be deported."
Before the applause began Colonel Luke Lea had the floor. He is tall and imposing and a powerful speaker.
This brought down the house. It was what everybody thought and wanted. It was what everybody had hoped for since the very first day during the war that the Department of Justice had made its first internments. There have been all sorts of stories telling about these interned aliens getting rooms with baths, tennis courts, swimming pools, and playgrounds, and everyone had consistently hoped that they would all be sent back to Germany or Austria at the earliest possible moment after the war. The same hope was expressed in regard to certain Scandinavians and Hollanders here who were active in behalf of Germany. One thing is certain and that is that none of the delegates present were opposed to this enemy alien deportation, or if they were they didn't or couldn't make themselves heard above the thunderous approbation.
The culmination of this particular phase of the caucus was most dramatic. A wounded soldier on crutches, and bearing two wound stripes on his arm, was helped to the stage beside the chairman. "I am Private Sossin of Kentucky," he shouted. "I was born and reared in Poland, and came to this country and began to enjoy all the freedom of the American Constitution when I was thirty-seven years old. I left my business and my family to fight for this country. And if any of my native countrymen are so despicable as not to want to fight for the grandest flag the world has ever seen, the flag which gives freedom to all who are oppressed, I say, damn him and kick him out of here so that we can show that we despise such slackers."
The Chairman: "All those in favor of the motion as finally amended will vote 'Aye."' That "Aye" shook the theater.
The caucus then passed a resolution that every naturalized citizen convicted under the Espionage Act should have his citizenship revoked and should be deported.
Another telling blow for Americanism!
The caucus also indorsed Secretary Lane's plan for the "Reclamation of arid, swamp, and cut-over timber lands." The resolution to that effect follows in full:
"Whereas, the reclamation of arid, swamp, and cut-over timber lands is one of the great constructive problems of immediate interest to the nation; and
"Whereas, one of the questions for immediate consideration is that of presenting to discharged soldiers and sailors an opportunity to establish homes and create for themselves a place in the field of constructive effort; and
"Whereas, one of the purposes for which the formation of the American Legion is contemplated is to take an energetic interest in all constructive measures designed to promote the happiness and contentment of the people, and to actively encourage all proper movements of a general nature to assist the men of the army and navy in solving the problems of wholesome existence; and

"Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved: By the caucus of delegates of the American Legion in convention assembled, in the City of Saint Louis, Missouri, that we endorse the efforts heretofore made for the reclamation of lands, and we respectfully urge upon the Congress of the United States the adoption at an early date of broad and comprehensive legislation for economic reclamation of all lands susceptible of reclamation and production."

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