On This Day
1915 – William Jennings Bryan resigns as Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State over a disagreement regarding the United States’ handling of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania.
Secretary of State
Upon taking office, Wilson named Bryan as Secretary of State. Bryan’s extensive travels, popularity in the party and support for Wilson in the 1912 election made him the obvious choice for what was traditionally considered to be the highest-ranking position in the Cabinet. Bryan took charge of a State Department that employed 150 officials in Washington and an additional 400 employees in embassies abroad. Early in Wilson’s tenure, the president and the secretary of state broadly agreed on foreign policy goals, including the rejection of Taft’s Dollar diplomacy. They also shared many priorities in domestic affairs and, with Bryan’s help, Wilson orchestrated passage of laws that reduced tariff rates, imposed a progressive income tax, introduced new anti-trust measures and established the Federal Reserve System. Bryan proved particularly influential in ensuring that the president, rather than private bankers, was empowered to appoint the members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
Secretary of State Bryan pursued a series of bilateral treaties in which both signatories promised to submit all disputes to an investigative tribunal. He quickly won approval from the president and the Senate to proceed with his initiative; in mid-1913, El Salvador became the first nation to sign one of Bryan’s treaties. 29 other countries, including every great power in Europe other than Germany and Austria-Hungary, also agreed to sign the treaties. Despite Bryan’s aversion to conflict, he oversaw U.S. interventions in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
After World War I broke out in Europe, Bryan consistently advocated for U.S. neutrality between the Entente and the Central Powers. With Bryan’s support, Wilson initially sought to stay out of the conflict, urging Americans to be “impartial in thought as well as action.” For much of 1914, Bryan attempted to bring a negotiated end to the war, but the leaders of both the Entente and the Central Powers were ultimately uninterested in American mediation. While Bryan remained firmly committed to neutrality, Wilson and others within the administration became increasingly sympathetic to the Entente. The March 1915 Thrasher incident, in which a German U-boat sank a British passenger ship with an American citizen onboard, provided a major blow to the cause of American neutrality. The May 1915 sinking of RMS Lusitania by another German U-boat further galvanized anti-German sentiment, as 128 Americans died in the incident. Bryan argued that the British blockade of Germany was equally as offensive as the German U-boat Campaign. He also maintained that by traveling on British vessels, “an American citizen can, by putting his own business above his regard for this country, assume for his own advantage unnecessary risks and thus involve his country in international complications.” After Wilson sent an official message of protest to Germany and refused to publicly warn Americans not to travel on British ships, Bryan delivered his letter of resignation to Wilson on June 8, 1915.
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Born On This Day
1842 – Hazard Stevens, American military officer, mountaineer, politician and writer (d. 1918)
Hazard Stevens (June 9, 1842 – October 11, 1918) was an American military officer, mountaineer, politician and writer. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Union army during the American Civil War at the Battle of Fort Huger. Stevens and Philemon Beecher Van Trump made the first documented successful climb of Mount Rainier on August 17, 1870.
Early life and the Civil War
Stevens was born in Newport, Rhode Island on June 9, 1842, the son of Isaac I. Stevens and Margaret Hazard Stevens. In 1854, his father became the first governor of the new Washington Territory and the Stevens family moved to Olympia, Washington. Both father and son volunteered in the Union army during the Civil War and served in the 79th New York Volunteer Infantry. Hazard Stevens was a major and assistant adjutant general. Hazard was wounded and his father, by then a general, was killed in the Battle of Chantilly on September 1, 1862. For his contribution to the capture of Fort Huger, Virginia, on April 19, 1863, Stevens received the Medal of Honor on June 13, 1894. Stevens was mustered out of the Union Army volunteers on September 19, 1865. On January 13, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Stevens for appointment to the brevet grade of brigadier general of volunteers, to rank from April 2, 1865, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination on March 12, 1866.
After the war and the ascent of Mount Rainier
After the war, Stevens returned to Washington to care for his widowed mother, working initially for the Oregon Steam Navigation Company and then as a federal revenue collector in 1868. He then met P. B. Van Trump, who was working as the private secretary to Marshall F. Moore, the seventh governor of the territory. Both men were interested in climbing Mount Rainier and on August 17, 1870 they completed the first documented ascent of the mountain.
The Stevens Van Trump Historic Monument along the Skyline Trail in Mount Rainier National Park was erected to commemorate the historic first ascent of the mountain. Nearby is Stevens Peak, Stevens Canyon, and Stevens Ridge, each named after him.
Stevens joined the bar in 1871, representing the Northern Pacific Railroad Company in their prosecution of lumber theft cases. In 1874, Stevens investigated British claims on the San Juan Islands at the request of President Ulysses S. Grant.
In 1874, Stevens moved to Dorchester, Massachusetts near Boston. He then entered the Massachusetts state legislature as a reformer in 1885. He successfully lobbied for the preservation of Boston’s Old State House. He was unsuccessful in a run for the United States Congress.
In 1887 Stevens was admitted to the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati by right of his descent from Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Lyman.
Stevens established the Cloverfields Dairy Farm in Olympia, Washington in 1916. Now on the National Historic Register, the former farm is the site of the present Olympia High School.
Later in life, Stevens wrote “The Life of Isaac Ingalls Stevens”, a noted biography of his father in addition to many papers on the Civil War. In 1918, while in frail health, he presided over the ceremonial placement of a memorial marker to Bureau of Indian Affairs agent Andrew Bolon in Klickitat County, Washington and, the following day, suffered a stroke of paralysis. He died unmarried shortly thereafter  and is interred at Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island Plot: Lots 650-653.
Medal of Honor citation
Rank and Organization:
Captain and Assistant Adjutant General, U.S. Volunteers. Place and Date: At Fort Huger, Va., April 19, 1863. Entered service at: Olympia, Washington Territory. Born: June 9, 1842, Newport, R.I. Date of issue: June 13, 1894.
Citation: Gallantly led a party that assaulted and captured the fort.
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Thank you for taking the time to join me.
Just a quick note: After taking a little break, I was hoping to be more consistent with my writing, publishing weekly. That didn’t work. Everything is fine, though. I’m just moving around a lot, which makes it hard. It also just doesn’t feel like as much of a priority as it used to be. This may or may not remain the case for rest of the year. Either way, at the very least, you’ll hear from me at least once every few weeks.
Let’s get into it.
Here is the new essay of the week:
The Best Answer to Life’s Questions – The way we ask questions and the way we answer them shapes the meanings in our lives. But sometimes, it’s best to not ask or answer at all. Here I touch on thoughts, consciousness, time, uncertainty, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, and the way I like to think about jokes (Pocket).
A quote that I’ve been pondering:
“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.” – John Adams
A book that I’ve been enjoying:
Reverie and Interpretation – I’ve been flipping back and forth in this book for a while. It’s a psychoanalyst’s take on how moments of spontaneous reverie can bring about therapeutic benefits when expressed in a conversation between a patient and an analyst, taking on a life of their own. It’s a useful lens for day to day life, too.
An idea that I’ve been playing with:
Good fashion is timely and timeless. It comes down to doing the simple things really, really well. What’s best expressed doesn’t shout; it just whispers in a way that invites you to come closer. I think this is a good analogy for life in general: A lot of perceived complexity can be reduced by mastering the basics to the point of boredom.
An interesting question to think about:
How much of what you experience as love is a mask for your own selfish desires?
As always, thoughts and criticisms are more than welcome, too. Press reply.
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