The Great Madness:
A Victory for the American Plutocracy
The entrance of the United States into the world war on April 6,
1917, was the greatest victory that the American plutocracy has won
over the American democracy since the declaration of war with Spain in
1898. The American plutocracy urged the war; shouted for it; demanded
it; insisted upon it, and finally got it.
The plutocracy welcomed the war not because it was a war, but because
it meant a chance to get a stronger grip on the United States.
[The plutocrats believe there are some things worse than war]: the
confiscation of special privileges; the abolition of unearned income;
the overthrow of the economic parasitism; the establishment of
industrial democracy. The plutocrats would welcome a war that promised
salvation from any such calamities; they would also welcome a war that
promised greater foreign markets, the destruction of foreign
competition, more security for property rights and a longer lease on
life for plutocratic despotism.
The plutocrats, or wealth lords, ... were for the war from the
beginning. They urged preparedness; they demanded national defense;
they cried aloud for reprisals upon Germany because ... it gave them a
chance to deliver a knock-out blow to the American democracy.
Big business was in public disfavor. Advertisements, "boiler-plate,"
news stories, press agents and blatant philanthropies had little
effect. The people would not forget the "public be damned"
days of the business buccaneers. They had learned about the rebates,
the unfair rates, the debauchery of public officials and the criminal
practices by which many of the most successful of the big business men
had climbed into power. The people were "wise" to big
business, and they were getting wiser every day.
The immense success of the parcels post sounded an ominous warning to
special privilege. There was general talk that the telephone and
telegraph industry would be nationalized next, and that the railroads
would follow suit at an early date. If this socializing of industry
was once begun, where was it to end?
The public had been educated, through many years, by progressive and
radical political leaders, newspaper men, and social workers. There
was the labor movement in its various phases - unions, socialism, I.
W. W. The people were learning the lesson rapidly. Laws were passed;
commissions were appointed; regulations were imposed. Most of the laws
were violated; most of the commissions were captured by the plutocrats
and most of the regulations were evaded. Still public opposition rose
stubbornly and surely.
The plutocracy wanted a free hand. Since the Spanish War the United
States had been a lending nation. The wealth of the country in 1900
was 87 billions; in 1912, 187 billions; in 1917, 250 billions. There
were 120 persons, who admitted, in 1916, that they had incomes of over
a million dollars a year. The wealth of the country was vast enough to
feed, clothe, house and educate every boy and girl; enough to give all
of the necessaries and most of the simple comforts of life to every
family. The plutocrats were not interested in these matters, however.
They wanted security for investments at home and abroad.
Things at home were in bad shape and promising to get worse. Millions
of people were sore on the system which fed the owner and starved the
worker; millions of casual laborers - men and women wandered from job
to job; from city to city, discouraged, homeless, indifferent. The
revolutionary fury that was passing through the country broke out
menacingly in Colorado, West Virginia, Lawrence, Paterson, Bayonne and
New York. People no longer asked, "Will there be a revolution?"
but, "When will the revolution come?"
The plutocrats had lost public confidence. They realized that if they
were to hold their position - public confidence must be regained.
The control by the vested interests of natural resources, banks,
railroads, mines, factories, political parties, public offices, courts
and court decisions, the school system, the press, the pulpit, the
movie business, the magazines - all of this power amounted to nothing
in a community that believed itself a democracy, unless public opinion
was behind it.
How could the plutocracy - the discredited, vilified plutocracy - get
public opinion? There was only one way: it must line up with some
cause that would command public confidence. The cause that it chose
was the "defense of the United States."
THE "DEFENSE OF THE UNITED STATES"
With the immense power of the public press at their disposal;
possessing unlimited means; united on a common policy, the plutocracy
spread terror over the land.
The campaign was intense and dramatic. Japanese invasions, Mexican
inroads, and a world conquest by Germany were featured in the daily
press, in the magazines, on the movie screens and in public addresses.
Depredations, murder and rapine were to be the lot of the American
people unless they built battleships and organized armies.
The campaign to arouse the American people against the Mexicans was
so raw that President Wilson felt called upon to make a public
statement (March 26, 1916), in which he charged that "there are
persons all along the border who are actively engaged in originating
and giving as wide currency as they can to rumors of the most
sensational and disturbing sort which are wholly unjustified by the
facts. The object of this traffic in falsehood is obvious. It is to
create intolerable friction between the government of the United
States and the de facto government of Mexico for the purpose of
bringing about intervention in the interests of certain American
owners of Mexican properties."
Still the campaign was continued and when the unwillingness of the
Mexicans to fight made the manufacture of jingoistic propaganda
impossible in that quarter, the advocates of "national defense''
turned to Germany as offering the greatest opportunities.
The preparedness campaign was a marvel of efficient business
organization. Its promoters made use of every device known to the
advertising profession. The best brains were employed and the country
was literally blanketed with preparedness propaganda.
[In opposition to this campaign] Officers of the army and navy were
frank in insisting that the defense of the United States was
adequately provided for. General Miles said: "Having had much to
do with the placing and construction of our fortifications and
inspecting every one along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts, as
well as having had an opportunity to see all the great armies of the
world and many of their coast fortifications, including the
Dardanelles, I am prepared to say that our coasts are as well defended
as the coast of any country with the same class of guns, and heavy
projectiles, and I have no sympathy with the misrepresentations that
have been made in the attempt to mislead the public." (
Congressional Record, 2/3/16, #2265)
Still the preparedness campaign continued with redoubled vigor.
Congressman Clyde H. Tavenner stated (Congressional Record, February
3, 1916, page 2265.) that four firms "constituting the war trust
have received army and navy contracts aggregating 175 million dollars."
He contended that "army and navy officials have generously paid
the war trust from 20 to 60 per cent more than the same supplies could
have been manufactured for in government arsenals." He showed
that the present "Chief of Ordnance was formerly in partnership
with the Bethlehem Company, one of the war trust firms," and that
the "powder trust was represented in Washington by an ex-army
official and an ex-member of Congress." He then showed the
connection that existed between the preparedness campaign and those
who were making profits out of the war business, the nickel business,
the copper business, and the steel business, interlocked through
interlocking directorates ; then he established the connection between
the Navy League and the firm of J. P. Morgan & Company, 23 Wall
Street, New York. Regarding this connection, Congressman Tavenner
says: "The Navy League upon close examination would appear to be
little more than a branch office of the house of J. P. Morgan &
Company, and a general sales promotion bureau for the various armor
and munition makers and the steel, nickel, copper and zinc interests.
At least, they are all represented among the directors, officers,
founders or life members of or contributors to the Navy League.
Especially are all firms of big business represented, and big business
invariably heads in at 23 Wall Street, New York."1
Tavenner concludes: "...the munition patriots founded the Navy
League. * * * The armor plate makers are the most patriotic patriots
on earth." "There are but three firms in the United States
who manufacture armor plate - Midvale, Bethlehem and Carnegie
companies - each of them is represented in the list of 19 men who,
according to the official journal of the Navy League, were founders of
the organization. * * * Is it not a rather peculiar coincidence that
among these 19 directors who stepped forth from all the millions of
the American citizens to save the Republic by advocating larger
appropriations for battleships every armor making concern in the
United States should be represented ?"
"Defenseless America" the refrain. "Preparedness"
was an argument in itself and every channel of publicity in the United
States devoted a major share of attention to this argument.
Aggressive Germany was the danger mark. It was against her infamous
desire to impose Kultur upon the world that America was urged to
prepare herself. It was for this purpose that the President signed a
bill during the summer of 1916 appropriating 662 million dollars for
the army and navy, a sum larger than had ever before been appropriated
for war purposes by any nation in times of peace. Well might
LaFollette exclaim, in his speech (July 19-20, 1916) opposing this
appropriation, -- "I object, Mr. President, to a game, a plan, a
conspiracy to force upon this country a big army and a big navy, to
use the Treasury of the country, and if need be the lives of its
people, to make good the foreign speculation of a few unscrupulous
masters of finance."
The preparedness movement came from the business interests. It was
fostered and financed by the plutocracy. It was their first successful
effort at winning public confidence, and so well was it managed that
millions of Americans fell into line, fired by the love of the flag
and the world-old devotion to family and fireside; millions more
trembled with the fear of the frightful war that was coming, and other
millions were gripped by the hate and the war lust that inspire war
From preparedness to patriotism was a short step. The preparedness
advocates had used the flag freely. They had played national airs,
evoked the spirit of the founders of American democracy and worked
upon the emotions of the people until it was generally understood that
those who favored preparedness were patriots.
Patriotism ran high. Enthusiasm for the flag increased. Patriotic
committees were organized, but when the names of the patriots appeared
in the newspapers they were distinguished by one outstanding fact, the
vast majority of them were the successful business and professional
men who were the center and forefront of the patriotic movement just
as they had been the center and forefront of the preparedness
The price of flags rose rapidly - the flag manufacturers took this
opportunity to get their share of the good things that were "going
round" - nevertheless, the workers by the hundreds of thousands "contributed"
to provide flags for the establishments in which they were employed.
Men were discharged when they refused to make such "contributions."
The business interests were "in clover." After years of
unpopularity, after being forced to endure investigation, criticism,
and antagonistic legislation, after being condemned by even the
conservative element in public life as a menace to American progress
and well-being, the business interests suddenly found themselves in a
movement that was carrying the people, and they worked it for all it
"Patriotism" was the refrain of every speech and every
article - a patriotism of their own particular brand.
The plutocratic brand of patriotism won the endorsement of the press,
the pulpit, the college, and every other important channel of public
information in the United States. The "educated," "cultured,"
"refined," "high-principled" editors, ministers,
professors and lawyers accepted it and proclaimed it as though it were
their own. Turning their backs upon principle, throwing morals and
ideals to the winds, they tumbled over one another in a wild scramble
to be the first to join the chorus of plutocratic patriotism.
The American plutocracy was magnified, deified, and consecrated to
the task of making the world safe for democracy. The brigands had
turned saints and were conducting a campaign to raise $100,000,000 for
the Red Cross. The malefactors of great wealth, the predatory business
forces, the special privileged few who had milked the American people
for generations became the prophets and the crusaders, the keepers of
the ark of the covenant of American democracy.
This campaign was directed by H. P. Davison, one of the leading
members of the firm of J. P. Morgan & Co.
Throughout the war, the United States had been referred to as the "great
neutral." At the very beginning of the contest President Wilson
had urged the people to be neutral in thought as well as in act.
Meanwhile, the British fleet blockaded Germany, closed the North Sea,
sowed it with mines, and refused to permit American manufacturers to
sell goods to the Central Powers. This constituted a brazen violation
of international law. By accepting this blockade the United States
became the armorer and the provisioner of the Allied countries.
Whatever the Allies wanted was manufactured by the United States and
shipped to them, contraband and non-contraband alike. The statement
was repeatedly made that we were willing to sell to the Central Powers
on the same terms, but the fact that the Central Powers could not
possibly buy from us rendered any talk of neutrality the thinnest kind
of a sham.
England confiscated cargoes in violation of international law. Her
mines sunk American ships and destroyed American lives. Being mistress
of the sea she held up mails, despite American protests.
The German submarines sank American boats also in violation of
international law. The protests against England's depredations were
feeble, those against Germany were uproarious. American sentiment was
being shaped deliberately in favor of the Allies from whom American
bankers, manufacturers and traders were making a billion dollars a
year of war profits. Driven by this economic pressure, the country
ceased to talk of neutrality, and became frankly pro-Ally, in
utterances as well as in business transactions.
American business interests put up a bitter cry of protest when
Germany announced a blockade of England by her submarines (as complete
as the blockade which England has established over Germany) and [When
Germany] warned American shipping away from the waters surrounding the
British Isles (in the same way that England has warned American
shipping away from the waters surrounding Germany).
The situation was critical. American business stood to lose billions.
The President hurried to the rescue with his preposterous phrase "armed
neutrality," and asked Congress for permission to place guns and
gunners on American merchantmen. While the President asked for this
authority as a peace measure, it was pretty clear that armed
neutrality would mean war the first time that an armed merchantman met
The President's request for authority to arm American merchant
vessels was made in an address to Congress, February 26, 1917, in
which he said, - "I am not now proposing or contemplating war or
any steps that need lead to it. I request that you authorize me to
supply our merchant ships with defensive arms, should that become
necessary, and with the means of using them."
"The Armed Ship Bill", authorizing the President to arm
merchant vessels was introduced. The newspapers of the country backed
it eagerly. The administration pushed it vigorously, but the bill went
down to defeat because of a filibuster by a little group of senators
of whom LaFollette was the leading figure. Senator LaFollette
(4/4/1917) "The demand [to arm merchant ships] came chiefly from
the American Line, whose tonnage is less than five per cent of the
total tonnage of the United States engaged in foreign trade. The
American Line is a subsidiary of the International Mercantile Marine
Company, which in December, 1916, had 102 vessels flying the British
flag, two flying the Belgian flag and eight flying the United States
flag. The control of the International Mercantile Marine Company,
prior to the war, was in England. ...When one of the American Line
ships, armed with United States guns, sails out to sea the orders to
fire will be given by Mr. Franklin's master of the ship, not by the
United States gunner. The English owners give orders to Franklin. The
English owners take their orders from the British Admiralty. Hence we,
professing to be a neutral nation. are placing American guns and
American gunners practically under the orders of the British
"The armed ship bill commanded Overwhelming support, not only of
the party in power, whipped into line to railroad through the Senate
an Administration measure, but also of all - those sinister influences
which have been clamoring for war: the munition makers, the gamblers
in war stocks and war contracts and the financial interests who have
loaned vast sums to one set of belligerents...plotters, enemies of our
The armed ship bill failed to pass because a handful of senators
refused to have it rushed through during the closing hours of the
session. The result was electric. The President denounced them as "a
little group of willful men." The papers cartooned them and
vilified them in the most shameless manner. They were called "German
agents" and scores of newspapers presented them with the Iron
Cross. Among those senatorial "traitors" were the few
senators who had stood for the common people against the vested
The patriots of plutocracy did not confine their attention to
Congressmen. The term "traitor" was flung in the teeth of
anyone who opposed the seven league steps that the administration was
taking toward war. Radicals who had always opposed war; ministers who
had spent their lives in preaching Peace on earth ; scientists whose
work had brought them into contact with the peoples of the whole
world; public men who believed that the United States could do greater
and better work for democracy by staying out of the war were
persecuted as zealously as though they had sided with Protestantism in
Catholic Spain under the Inquisition. The plutocracy had declared for
war, and woe betide the heedless or willful one who still insisted
upon urging the gospel of peace.
The liberal and radical forces of American life - the men and women
who had sacrificed, suffered, labored and struggled to make America
safe for democracy, were brushed aside by the triumphant Patriotic
plutocracy: Morgan, Rockefeller, Guggenheim, Willard, Gary, Schwab,
Stotesbury, - were the great patriots. All who opposed them were
traitors. The plutocracy had always stood and still stands for special
privilege in its most vicious form. By a clever move, the plutocrats,
wrapped in the flag and proclaiming a crusade to inaugurate democracy
in Germany, rallied to their support the professional classes of the
United States and millions of the common people.
THE SECOND OF APRIL
The "patriots" wanted to ship goods to the Allied
governments. Armed neutrality for them meant business opportunity. The
"traitors" were those who opposed foreign entanglements and
alliances and who used every effort to keep the United States out of
No one knows just how serious was the predicament of the Allies in
the spring of 1917. After three years of war, during which they had
made the most stupendous preparations and spent unheard of wealth and
energy they had proved themselves incapable of driving the Germans out
of France and Belgium, and were, in reality, still fighting a
defensive war. Their credit was strained to the breaking point, and
their resources were at a very low ebb. The food situation in the
British Isles was serious. The Russians were temporarily out of the
fight. Meanwhile, the submarines were playing havoc with Allied
The economic position of the United States was also serious. Our
export trade which had jumped from two billions in 1913 to seven
billions in 1917 was threatened with demolition. The large
manufacturing establishments which had been erected for the purpose of
supplying munitions to the Allied governments had delivered most of
their contracts and were waiting for additional war orders. The
banking interests, led by the Morgan firm, had backed the Allies
financially. Allied failure, therefore, meant disaster to American
finance. For three years the American plutocracy had enjoyed the
benefits of war business, without paying any of the penalties which
war entails. These vast profits would cease if the submarine blockade
The "great neutral" faced the test of possible commercial
disaster. A hundred millions of people in the balance counted as
nothing against the menace of economic losses. The President without
any authority from Congress armed the merchant ships' and gave
Bernstorf his papers. The business interests went wild with joy. When
the news of the break with Germany was flashed to Wall Street every
banking house hung out its flag and "in twenty minutes Wall
Street from Trinity Church to South Street was bedecked like on a
holiday." - Finance and Commerce, February 7, 1917.
On 4/2/17 the President insisted that Congress follow him still
further and declare the existence of a state of war with Germany.
The Administration, backed almost solidly by the press (which saw
within easy reach the war for which it had labored so faithfully)
demanded that all members of Congress. "stand behind the
General Isaac R. Sherwood, a veteran of the Civil War, made a final
appeal to Congress on the 5th of April in which he reviewed the
history of England's attack upon the United States during the Civil
War, warned the American people that they were going to war "as
an Ally of the only nation in Europe that has always been our enemy
and against the nation that has always been our friend." The
President "in the presence of both Houses of Congress, and the
Cabinet, and the Supreme Court, and the bespangled Diplomatic Corps,
in a spectacular and elaborately staged event wrote a message to
Congress and the country, declaring his purpose to enter the world
wide conflict in the interests of a world wide democracy. * * * At the
distance of 3,500 miles the undesirable and dangerous German Kaiser
looks the same to me as the great-grandson of George Third; in fact,
all kings look alike to me. I am not willing to vote to send the
gallant young manhood of America across the Atlantic Ocean to fight
for either. * * * I regard war as the greatest crime of the human
race. * * * My experience in the Civil War has saddened all my life. *
* * As I love my country, I feel it my sacred duty to keep the
stalwart young men of today out of a barbarous war 3,500 miles away,
in which we have no vital interest."
There was other opposition equally vigorous and equally well spoken
which called down upon the heads of those who uttered it a torrent of
the most barbarous abuse from the press, the pulpit, and public men in
every walk of life.
On April 6th, with the passage of the resolution declaring the
existence of a state of war, the American people found themselves in
war, after returning a party to power only five months before because
it had "kept us out of war."
The people were not consulted, their wishes were not considered.
No popular referendum on the war was even proposed by the
administration. Like the people in the king ridden countries of
Europe, the American people, without any say in the matter were
plunged into the conflict.
The make-up of some of the [war-expenditures] sub-committees [is
revealing]: Mr. Willard's sub-committee on "Express"
consists of four vice-presidents, one from the American, one from the
Wells Fargo, one from the Southern and one from the Adams Express
Company. His committee on "Locomotives" consists of the
vice-president of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, a vice-president of
the Porter Locomotive Company, the president of the American
Locomotive Company, and the Chairman of the Lima Locomotive
Mr. Rosenwald's committee on "Shoe and Leather Industries"
consists of eight persons, all of them representing shoe or leather
companies. His committee on "Woolen Manufactures" consists
of eight representatives of the woolen industry, and his committee on
"Supplies" consists of a retired business man, and one
representative each from Sears, Roebuck & Company, the Quaker Oats
Company and Libby, McNeil & Libby (meat packers).
The same business control appears in Mr. Baruch's committees. His
committee on "Cement" consists of the presidents of four of
the leading cement companies, the vice-president of a fifth cement
company, and a representative of the Bureau of Standards of
Washington. His committee on "Copper" has the names of the
presidents of the Anaconda Copper Company, the Calumet & Hecla
Mining Company, the United Verde Copper Company and the Utah Copper
Company. Mr. Murray M. Guggenheim is a member of the same committee.
His committee on "Steel and Steel Products" consists of
Elbert H. Gary, chairman of the United States Steel Corporation,
Charles M. Schwab, of the Bethlehem Steel Company, A. C. Dinkey,
vice-president of the Midvale Steel Company, W. L. King,
vice-president of Jones & Loughlin Steel Company and J. A. Burden,
president of the Burden Iron Company. The other four members of the
committee represent the Republic Iron & Steel Company, the
Lackawanna Steel Company, the American Iron & Steel Institute and
the Picklands, Mather Company, of Cleveland. Perhaps the most
astounding of all the committees is that on "Oil." The
Chairman is the President of the Standard Oil Company, and the
Secretary of the Committee gives his address as "26- Broadway,"
the address of the Standard Oil Company. The other nine members of the
committee are oil men from various parts of the country. What thinking
American would have even suggested, three years ago, that the Standard
Oil Company would be officially directing a part of the work of the
Comment is superfluous. Every great industrial enterprise of the
United States has secured representation on the committees of business
men that have openly taken charge of the United States.
The business interests had played for a great stake. They had played
against the well being of the American democracy. The prize they
sought was a billion dollars a year in profits. Wrapped in the folds
of the flag and uttering resounding declarations of patriotism, on
April sixth the business interests won a victory of terrible import to
the American democracy.
THE LIBERTY LOAN
As soon as war was declared, the administration undertook to secure,
-- money, conscription, and censorship. The first and most important
of these was money. Congress passed almost immediately the bill
authorizing a bond issue of seven billions of dollars.
The Liberty Loan was important to the American bankers who had
financed the Allies, because it guaranteed Allied credit. There were
other things about it, however, that were even more significant than
its assistance in international business. It gave the local business
men a chance to do a piece of work of the utmost importance to their
[In the face of a public apathetic, indifferent or hostile to war]
the Liberty Loan gave plutocracy a chance to put in every American
home an economic argument (a bond paying 3 per cent) in favor of
standing behind the government.
There was another argument in favor of selling the bonds to the
people. Now that the plutocracy were the messengers of democracy in
Germany and the incarnation of patriotism in the United States, to
gainsay or to question their position was to be a traitor to the Stars
and Stripes, which they had taken over as completely as they had
previously taken over the steel, coal, iron, wheat, cotton, water
power, franchises, banks, railroads and the like. Hence, any employee
could be asked by an employer in the name of liberty and democracy to
buy a bond.
A girl who was working in a department store for $7 a week "arranged"
with her manager to contribute $2 a week for 25 weeks in order to
purchase a Liberty Bond. When the Red Cross campaign was on, a friend
found this girl crying and upon inquiring was informed that week the
$5 which remained of her wage had been "contributed" to the
Red Cross fund. She was wondering how she could get to the next week
and pay her board and food bills.
A man with a family, sick for three months, had contracted several
doctor's bills and was in financial straits. He was advised that it
would be wise for him to buy a Liberty Bond. Like the cash girl, he
was not in a position where he could talk back. He therefore went
farther into debt in order to comply with the "suggestion"
of his superior.
The Liberty Loan was probably more effective than any other single
weapon in the hands of the business world as a club with which to
coerce the workers. Heretofore the employer had run his own business
as he pleased. Now he was able to go further and tell his workers how
they might spend their income.
The plutocracy saw the advantage which would accrue to them from the
Liberty Loan. They did not subscribe themselves in any large degree,
but they did use every effort to cajole and coerce the common people
of the United States into subscribing. The business interests of the
United States stood together and worked together more solidly on the
Liberty Loan than on any other measure within the memory of the
present generation. It was a business proposition and the business
crowd put it over.
The Liberty Loan was a signal victory for the plutocracy, and an
equally signal defeat for the democracy. It did more to bulwark the
position of the plutocratic despots of the United States than it will
ever do for liberty in Europe.
The President's speech on April 2nd, and the "war-vote" of
Congress on April 6th, plunged the American people into the war. The
Liberty Loan saddled the immediate payment for the war upon millions
of unwilling common people and yoked up the next generation to a war
debt over which they had no control. The war-madness was beginning to
yield its bitter fruit.
The second measure of importance to the business world was
conscription. The labor problem in America was giving the plutocracy a
great deal of trouble, The shortage of workers during the years of
war-contract activity had put the laboring people in a position of
great strategic advantage which they had used on many occasions to
advance wages and shorten hours. The workers were relatively
prosperous and unusually confident. ...labor solidarity [is] dangerous
to plutocracy. Conscription would do much to hamper or destroy it.
Conscription possessed another advantage of supreme importance.
Experience had shown that great armies and navies could not be raised
by the volunteer system in a democracy. If the plutocracy was to put
over its plan for a great army and navy behind its aggressive economic
campaign into Mexico, Central America and South America, it must have
conscription in order to provide the men for the military and naval
When the Conscription Bill was introduced into Congress there was a
general feeling through the country that it could not pass, Even the
press hesitated, so un-American was this Bill, which clearly violated
the spirit of the constitution and the traditions of American life.
Then courage was supplied to the press from somewhere, and the
newspapers and magazines of the country went to work with a will. They
apologized, explained and insisted. Six weeks after war was declared
the bill had passed Congress. Within two months, more than nine
million young men had been "selected for service."
The Conscription Bill paved the way for a military system exactly
like that which had been so savagely denounced in Germany. It gave the
American plutocracy the beginnings of a big, cheap army. It disposed
of the uncertainties of volunteering and provided the possibility of
military education for every young American. At the same time the way
was opened for the imposition of universal service, which was all that
Prussia has ever demanded in the balmiest days of her militarism,
Then, too, a beginning was made toward industrial conscription, and
the possibility was opened for the importation of coolie and peon
labor, things which were not even thinkable in peace days. America,
after two months of war, had ... the rudiments of European militarism
in its most barbarous aspects.
Business rejoiced again. The
Chicago Tribune on June 6th (the day following registration),
headed one of its market reports , - "Draft Success Puts New Life
in New York Market. Industrials Leaders in Upward Trend. Year's Best
Prices Reached." The plutocracy had scored another victory which
was immediately recorded in the climbing prices of stocks and bonds -
and ten million young men were in the grip of American militarism.
"The United States has been suffering from an over-dose of
democracy" insists one ardent supporter of the plutocracy.
The censorship bill was designed to remedy this deplorable situation
by sweeping aside personal liberty. The declaration of war was a slap
in the face of democracy. The censorship bill bandaged its eyes,
plugged its ears and gagged its mouth.
The censorship bill, in its original form, was so drastic and
far-reaching that even the newspapers denounced it. So general was the
opposition that after weeks of fighting, the bill was approved by the
President on June 15th in such a modified form that there was no
direct reference to freedom of speech and of the press. But tucked
away in an obscure corner of Section 481 was an amendment to the
Postal Laws which reads, - "Every letter, writing, circular,
postal card, picture, print, engraving, photograph, newspaper,
pamphlet, book, or other publication, matter or thing of any kind
containing any matter which is intended to obstruct the recruiting or
enlistment service of the United States is hereby declared to be
Under this section each one of the 123,387 United States postmasters
is made a censor with authority (subject to the reversal of his
superiors) to exclude from the mails anything that in his judgment
will "obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service." The
Federal authorities were not slow in availing themselves of this
immense power. The Cleveland (Ohio) Socialist, the Detroit (Mich.)
Socialist, the Rebel of Texas, the International Socialist Review, the
American Socialist, the Masses and other radical publications were
promptly denied the use of the mails. The American Socialist (Chicago)
had planned a "Liberty Edition" for June 30th. The entire
edition and two other editions were held up by the Chicago postmaster
acting under instructions from Washington. Other papers were
A storm of protest broke over the country, Within the memory of the
oldest inhabitant there had been no such deliberate violation of the
freedom of the press which is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the
The Texas Rebel, an organ of the Farmers and Laborers Protective
Association, was held up by the following order to the local
postmaster, from W. H. Lamar, Solicitor General of the Postal
Department at Washington, "submit to this office further copies
of The Rebel, published at your place, for instructions, before
accepting for mailing."
The Public (New York) remarked in this connection,"This is even
worse than the late Russian Censorship. The Russian Censor would but
black out the passage in the paper to which he took exception and let
the rest go. But the postal censorship would hold up a whole issue."
While the Federal authorities were engaged in this vigorous campaign
to throttle American liberty, local and state officials were equally
busy denying the right of free speech and free assemblage. Halls were
closed, street speaking was prohibited, the headquarters of socialist
and I. W. W. locals were raided by the soldiers and police. Those who
criticized the authorities were denounced as traitors. The mere
mention of "peace" was infamous.
[Throughout May, 1917] and through the succeeding months the denial
of free speech and free assemblage continued; the postal censorship
laid its heavy fist on the free press; and sailors and soldiers
wearing the uniform of the United States were permitted and in some
cases encouraged to disturb and break up meetings of a radical
character. During all of that time there was no official utterance
from the President on the subject.
The most flagrant invasion of civil liberty was staged in Boston on
Sunday, July 1st. The workers had decided to hold a parade. followed
by a mass-meeting on Boston Common. Permits were secured for both
events. The incidents of the afternoon are thus described by the New
York Times (July 2nd) :
"Half a hundred men in the uniform of Naval
Reservists, National Guardsmen, Marines and Canadian 'Kilties' who
had watched the formation of the parade, marched across the common
in a double column and intercepted the procession at the corner of
West and Tremont Streets, and again at the corner of Winter and
Tremont Street. In both instances the contact resulted in a street
fight. Blows were exchanged, and flags were snatched from the hands
of the marchers, while women in the line screamed in fright."
"At Scolley Square there was a similar scene. The American
flag at the head of the line was seized by the attacking party, and
the band, which had been playing "The Marseillaise" with
some interruption, was forced to play "The Star Spangled
Banner," while cheers were given for the flag.
"The police had just succeeded in quieting this disturbance
when the reserves were called out to quell a near riot at the
meeting place on the Common. The first of the peace speakers had
barely begun his remarks when the reserves arrived . They formed a
circle in the crowd, with the police wagon as a center, in front of
the speakers' stand, but in spite of their presence there were
scores of individual fights in the big gathering. To restore quiet
Supt. Crowley, as Acting Police Commissioner, revoked the permit for
the speaking and the meeting was called off. "
The plutocracy had been trying, for years to hush up agitation and to
suppress radicals. Muckrakers, the "labor agitator",
socialists, the I. W. W.'s, "anarchists," and other
opponents of things as they are were denounced, clubbed, jailed and
shot, but the agitation grew through persecution. Despite the
ownership of the jobs and the control of the government, despite
company stores and company guards, despite its grip on the press, the
pulpit and the school, the plutocracy was unable to prevent this
agitation. There were Colorado and Paterson, speaking the unmistakable
language of a coming revolution.
The war brought the harvest time. Radicals of every stamp who opposed
it - and practically all radicals did oppose and denounce it - were "traitors"
against whom the fury of the war-madness might legitimately be
SPREADING AMERICANISM WITH THE SWORD
A short two years sufficed to enable the business interests of the
United States to take charge of the country. They had previously
secured the natural resources, the manufacturing industries, the
credit machinery, the public utilities and the merchandising
establishments. This economic power, together with the control of the
channels of public opinion and of the machinery of politics enabled
them over night, in the history of American affairs, to put across
their program and prepare to "crush Germany."
President Wilson said very frankly that it was not the German people
against whom we were making war. He insisted that our purpose was to
overthrow the German autocracy.
The British capitalists had been franker. They had talked openly
about the "war after the war." They had even gone so far as
to hold a conference at Paris, in which they had discussed the best
methods of overthrowing German industry. As Frank Harris puts it in '
his book, "England or Germany" (page 21), "Great
Britain had taken up arms to crush a successful trade rival, and for
no other reason. As soon as war was declared, The Times and Daily Mail
and many other London papers threw off the mask and published column
after column showing how this, that and the other department of trade
could now be taken from the Germans."
Why did the American plutocracy desire to crush Germany? Was it to
destroy despotism there ? The idea is preposterous. The despotism in
any bank, factory or railroad of the United States is more complete
than that of the Kaiser. The American plutocracy has fattened on
despotism for generations.
The American plutocracy was no more interested in establishing
democracy in Germany than they were in establishing democracy in the
United States. They did want to see German industry crushed, however,
and since the Kaiser and his group represented German business in its
most highly developed form, the Kaiser was the object of their wrath.
The President stated the issue in quite another form, but no matter
what he may say, he cannot escape the fact that the plutocracy of the
United States was behind him in a body. The plutocrats are no man's
fools. They know what they want and they are after it, hot-foot.
The President decided that the best way to "make the world safe
for democracy" was to abandon America's traditional policy of
isolation; to form an alliance with six democracies and seven
monarchies ; to mobilize the resources of the country, and to enter
the world war as an active belligerent. ..."The world must be
made safe for democracy," said President Wilson to Congress on
April 2, 1917. Thereupon, without consulting the American people, or
Congress either, the President pushed the United States into war in an
alliance with three of the leading monarchies, including one of the
most complete autocracies (Japan) of the world.
"We now chart a new national course," said Congressman
Ernest Lundeen (April 5, 1917). "In terms of autocracy we declare
our intention to bestride the world with democracy. Our fixed
determination is to thrust democracy with loving bayonets down the
throats of unwilling peoples.
"Let us look at the company we will keep in performing this
benevolent function. We will be marching side by side with the King of
Serbia; the King of Italy is our boon companion; the King of Belgium
is there; so also the King of Roumania; the Emperor of India and the
King of England, our stalwart brother; not to mention the King of
Montenegro and various other principalities and rulers, as well as
chaotic Russia - only France is a Republic - and last but not least we
are to be brothers in blood with our dear friend the Emperor of Japan.
And this our Chief Executive proposes as our 'league of honor.'"
The forefront of this alliance to make the world safe for democracy
is England - "a hereditary monarchy, with a hereditary ruler,
with a hereditary House of Lords, with a hereditary landed system,
with a limited and restricted suffrage for one class and a multiple
suffrage power for another, and with grinding industrial conditions
for all the wage earners." (LaFollette 4/4/17) England, in which "there
will never be the ghost of freedom till there is a social revolution,"
England, "the real enemy of civilization, for more than a hundred
years now the chief obstacle to the humanization of man."3
Remember the words of David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of England,"Peace
before victory would be the greatest disaster in the history of
mankind...Britannia will rule the waves after the war."
...America will fight for liberty and when the right is won, - "Britannia
will rule!" (Glasgow speech, June 29,1917).
The tradition of American statesmanship had been a mind
your-own-business policy. ...[But] by July, 1917, the billboard
enlistment campaign was couched in such words as "The regulars
are in France, join them now!' "Enlist immediately so as to fight
on German and not on United States soil." The German autocracy
was on the defensive; the American plutocracy had become the
aggressor. The regular army had already been transported four thousand
miles and a conscript army of a million men was in process of
formation to wage an aggressive war in the interests of the British
Step by step the plutocracy advanced. Point by point they established
their position: war bonds, conscription, censorship and a war to crush
German industry. Meanwhile they were able to come out into the open
and take possession of the government through the subcommittees of the
Council of National Defense.
And the American people stood for it. Emotionalized, dazed,
stupefied, and blinded by the great madness that possessed their
souls, nearly a hundred million people cast aside their most cherished
principles, sacrificed their hard-won liberties, and began spreading
brotherhood and democracy by the sword. The plutocracy had won
everything for which it had been fighting - immunity, power, wealth.
The people were war-mad, - at least, there was enough of the war
madness in the country to enable the vested interests to put across
anything that they wanted.
Three years of ceaseless effort on the part of the press, the pulpit,
the school, the screen and the stage had sufficed to infuse millions
of Americans with the mob fear and mob hate that are the warp and woof
of war-madness. The carefully planned, brilliantly executed scheme of
advertising preparedness, patriotism and war, had left a great section
of the American people incapable of reasoning or understanding. On
April 2nd there were millions who had been worried, harried, and
emotionalized through the successive stages of fear, resentfulness,
bitterness, hatred and frenzy until they were sufficiently ferocious
to be willing to use the knife.
The plutocrats won immunity, power and wealth, measured in seven
figures. They won more. First, they secured the big navy and army for
which they had worked so faithfully, - an army to menace neighbors and
to preserve peace at home during the deluge of misery that will follow
the bursting cloud of war-values and war-prices; a navy to guard the
hundreds of millions that they have invested in "undeveloped"
countries; and seven billions of dollars to be spent at once - much of
it on war contracts, which afford proverbially fat pickings.
Again they had won conscription - the right to send a million
Americans into the trenches of France to fight for the poor Belgians,
for Lombard Street, Wall Street and King George of England.
They had established a spirit that permitted children to go back into
factories from which [they had just been rescued]; women to take men's
jobs at a fraction of the wage, and the standards surrounding the
labor of men to be lowered.
The plutocrats won another point - a point desired by every despot.
They won the right to impose restrictions upon the freedom of speech,
of press and assemblage, which are the foundation of democracy. The
plutocracy bought the press, subsidized the pulpit, placed their
representatives in control of the schools, and by the use of the
police and postal censorship they restricted individual liberty.
Beside and beyond this economic, political and social power the
Plutocracy had millions of deluded people in its grip incapable of
thinking because of the fearful war madness that possessed their
They aroused the people, agitating and irritating them, until they
were frantically repeating the blatant lie that the real enemy of
American liberty lived in Berlin. Then they stung them with high
prices, filched their liberty, plunged them into war, took a million
of their brothers and husbands and sons to wage a war of aggression on
the battlefields of king-ridden Europe, and because nothing happened
at once, they believe that they had won. They had won victory and
The plutocracy and the democracy cannot exist side by side. If the
plutocracy wins, dollars rule; if the democracy wins, people rule.
There can be no alternative and no compromise. During the past three
years of struggle, the democracy has lost every move. The power of the
plutocracy has been strengthened immeasurably.
- "The Navy League Unmasked"
speech of 12/15/15, #13
- Daniel Webster said in the
House of Representatives, December 9, 1814, - "If the
Secretary of War has proved the right of Congress to enact a law
enforcing a draft of men out of the militia into the regular army,
he will at the same time be able to prove quite as clearly that
Congress has power to create a dictator. The arguments which have
helped him in one case will equally help him in the other."
- "England or Germany,"
Frank Harris, #398