The Story of The American Legion Part 7

"Jack, for Heaven's sake, tell them I won't take it," Colonel Roosevelt plead.

It was just at this moment that Colonel Clark, the acting chairman, was saying: "The gentleman from the District of Columbia has the floor. Others please be quiet...."

Colonel Jack waving one arm at the chairman and another at the audience strode to the center of the stage.

The minutes read:

COLONEL JACK GREENWAY: "Will you give me the floor? I won't keep you five minutes.

"My name is Greenway but that doesn't mean anything to you. Gentlemen, Colonel Roosevelt has said that he is not going to take the nomination of the caucus and you can take it from me that he is not going to do it. Now wait a minute. Whoa! Quit yelling! I know this Roosevelt outfit and when they say something they mean it. I followed his daddy through Cuba and I know. I saw this boy in the first division at Cantigny and on the Toul Front and I know that he means he is not going to take the chairmanship of this temporary caucus. There is a big misunderstanding about what you are trying to do. I have just talked to Colonel Roosevelt and he says that he will not be a candidate for the temporary caucus, but if, after all the boys come home at the convention in November, it is still the desire of that body as a whole, he will give the matter reconsideration." (Applause.)

Colonel Roosevelt resumes the chairmanship.

THE CHAIRMAN: "Mr. Lindsley, the gentleman of Texas is in nomination for chairman. I mean absolutely what I say. I can't do it. I won't serve if elected. What you have done will always be a great memory to my family. (Applause.) I mean that, gentlemen! I mean that! Now is there anybody else you want to put in nomination? I absolutely mean that for the good of the cause; you have got to do what I say on that.

"Gentlemen, I believe the nominations were reopened."

Now I must again put the minutes by for a moment, for Bill has come to the stage and what he says doesn't get into the minutes, although I wish his remarks were there:

"That was pretty fine in him," Bill said, pointing to Colonel Roosevelt. I nodded only, for somehow this whole thing had got to me pretty strong and I felt like crying for some unaccountable reason.

"And then he gives his family the credit for all this yelling," Bill was saying. "We like his family all right, but say, this wasn't to compliment his family, not by a darn sight. Why, you know that young Colonel's got a h---- of a fine record himself--"

But somebody within an inch of my ear was letting out a warwhoop for Jack Sullivan who had just been nominated for permanent chairman and I didn't hear the last of Bill's remark.

Sergeant Sullivan got up and tried to withdraw in favor of Colonel Lindsley, and Colonel Lindsley did the same thing and each was refused the opportunity. Colonel Lindsley then took the floor. "Comrades," he said, "I want you to know that I came here for one man for the chairman of this caucus, and that man was Theodore Roosevelt. He has refused it absolutely. I appreciate the support that has been given to my name. If honored with the chairmanship I shall be glad to serve, but it is important that we get to business immediately. I am certain that Mr. Sullivan will make an excellent presiding officer. If I had the right, I should be glad to withdraw my name in his favor. But the point is, gentlemen, let's get to business. This is the greatest meeting that has ever gathered in the United States, and it is not so material who is chairman of the meeting as it is to proceed to business."

While the roll is being called let's glance around the theater again.

Most of the men in uniform are enlisted men. It is difficult to tell at a glance just what rank or rating the majority of those present held in the army or navy because in civilian clothing the officer and the man are indistinguishable. I mean to say that our army was different from most other military establishments. Being primarily a citizen affair it was really representative. It was the desire of the temporary committee that sixty per cent. of the delegates should be enlisted men and when the call for the caucus was issued that was set forth most plainly. No one seems to have taken the trouble to check the thing up at the caucus. Anyone desiring to do so can find the information in this volume. I was interested at the opening of the caucus to know just what the percentage was, but after it got into swing it didn't make any difference. No one cared. There was talk (among officers) of making an enlisted man permanent chairman. The only persons that I heard objecting to such a procedure were the enlisted men themselves.

"We've forgotten all that stuff about rank. If the officers insist on an enlisted man they'll make a mistake. We want the best man and because we're in the majority in the organization we don't want to discriminate against the officer. Taken as a whole, he was a mighty fine sort."

This from Sergeant Laverne Collier of the Idaho delegation when I asked him what he thought of the enlisted man idea. While we were talking about it the vote was being cast on Lindsley and Sullivan. As if to reecho Collier's sentiments, Sullivan got up and demanded that Lindsley's election should be made unanimous, and so it was.

Colonel Roosevelt promptly put Sullivan's name in nomination for vice-chairman. Mr. Abbott of Ohio seconded it and further moved that the sergeant's election be made unanimous. Sergeant Jack Sullivan was elected by acclamation. Then Colonel Wood was chosen secretary, the rules of the House of Representatives were decided upon to govern the procedure, and debate was limited to five minutes.

Insistence on that point was unnecessary. Our new American back from the wars has been too accustomed to action to like words that aren't concise and aimed right at the heart of the point. There was a good deal of noise and talk at this particular juncture and someone moved the appointment of a sergeant at arms. Captain A.L. Boyce of Boyce's Tigers (those young men who drilled so persistently in Central Park in New York preparing for the war) was picked. While this guardian of the peace was being appointed at least five gentlemen from as many delegations started to speak at once, perhaps against the five-minute debate rule, and in the confusion a delegate, whom Checkers might have described as carrying a load he should have made three trips with, took the platform and began something that sounded about as intelligible as Cicero's oration against Catiline in the original.

"Do I understand, Mr. Chairman, that a sergeant at arms has been appointed?" shouted Mr. J.L. Walsh of the Pennsylvania delegation.

"That's right," answered the chairman.

"Then let's have him get busy," rejoined Mr. Walsh. "We didn't come down here for a vaudeville show or to be entertained by some boob, because we've got boobs back home."

After this remark, the minutes read "Laughter and applause" but that doesn't half describe it.

Captain Boyce "got busy" and if the minutes could record the result of his actions they would probably read "Order restored--almost. Quieter, for a time."

Colonel Lindsley made a splendid presiding officer. None could have done better, but as the stenographer who took the minutes remarked (and she was convention-worn because she had attended so many): "This is the funnest meeting I ever wrote up." Right. It was the funniest meeting--funny being used in the sense of unusual as the stenographer meant it--that anyone ever saw. In fact it was unique; absolutely the only one of its kind. Because the delegates were unique. There never was anything like them in all the history of the country. They had gone into training camps like Bill, very tired, anaemic, with a shop and office pallor; and they came out of the war like Bill,--new, virile, interested, placing a value on themselves which would have been unthinkable prior to April 6, 1917.

But they placed a greater value on this organization which was so near the heart of all of them. No better proof of it can be shown than the incident which has just been described, viz., the refusal of Theodore Roosevelt to be the permanent chairman. Although I do not pretend to be able to explain the processes of thought and reasoning which led Colonel Roosevelt to take the action he did, still I do know this much! There are very few young men who would have been so deaf to the plaudits of the multitude, to the advice of old friends and to the still small voice of personal ambition as he was in refusing. I maintain that this refusal was by no means altogether prompted by anything of an hereditary nature but, rather, by the experiences and environment which had been Colonel Roosevelt's during the war. It took more than an under-slung jaw and a rugged Rooseveltian determination to refuse this great honor. It took _discipline_, and Colonel Roosevelt knew how to inflict that upon himself just as he did upon his troops whenever it was wise and necessary.

In much smaller, but no less important matters, did I see other men practice discipline upon themselves. I saw men forego the discussion of subjects in which they believed with all their hearts and with all their minds solely for the purpose of doing nothing that would tend to disrupt the Caucus or give the impression throughout the United States that the men who had stuck together so closely in times of daring and danger could not still stick and face, as a band of brothers in the American Legion, any perils or pitfalls which peace might hold for this country. Therefore, it seems to me that Colonel Roosevelt's action was more than a manifestation of his own sterling determination to do nothing which might hurt the Legion. It was archtypical.

Major Hamilton Fish of New York called attention to the fact that the navy was unrepresented in the offices of the caucus and moved that a second vice-chairman should be appointed from that branch of the service. A delegate from Missouri seconded the motion and amended it to read that a third vice-chairman should be appointed from the marine corps.

During the election of these officers enthusiasm reached a high pitch and in no more striking manner did the new American reveal his new character.

"Gentlemen," said one dignified delegate (I don't know who let him in, because just from the way he said "gentlemen" we all knew that once in his life he had practiced oratory before the bureau mirror), "I want to place in nomination the name of a man who is true blue--"

"Name him," shouted the crowd.

"He is not only true blue but he is thoroughly everything he ought to be in addition--" continued the orator, coldly trying to squelch the crowd.

"Name him." "Shut up." "Aw, sit down." "Who wants to listen to such 'bull' as that?"

Each of those sentences was roared by a different man.

"This gentleman is one of whom I am sure you will be proud--"

persisted the orator, but at this direct violation of its edict the crowd began to scream its maledictions and Captain Boyce could not have stopped them with all his Tigers if the gentleman orator hadn't taken his seat in a most dignified manner, never to rise again--doubtless as a rebuke for the gang, but one which was thoroughly appreciated.

Thus the way of orators in the caucus!

The navy men who were nominated consisted of Goerke of New York; Goldberg, Illinois; Chenoweth, Alabama; Almon, Montana; Humphrey, New Mexico; McGrath, New Jersey; and Evans of Kentucky. The secretary took the vote by delegations. When Goerke got a vote the New York crowd yelled itself hoarse; New Mexico did the same for Humphrey; Alabama cheered like mad for Chenoweth and it wasn't long before everybody picked out his candidate and yelled furiously every time he got a vote. The New Mexico delegation occupied a proscenium box but Humphrey wasn't prominent enough there to suit his delegation. Before anyone thoroughly realized what was happening, Seaman Humphrey appeared on the stage, borne on the shoulders of two colonels! Two men who had eagles on their shoulders, U.S. on their collars, and gold chevrons on their left sleeves carried on their shoulders a "gob," a sailorman, a deck-swabbing bluejacket, as he called himself.

It was the beginning of a cavalcade of noise that fairly made ear drums ache, and, incidentally, proved a signal for the backers of other candidates. Goerke soon was lifted aloft by a half dozen New Yorkers; Chenoweth was exhibited to the general view from the section of the orchestra occupied by his delegation, while Illinois paraded up and down the aisles with Goldberg. Colonel Lindsley hammered the speaker's table almost to pieces in an attempt to get order and then gave it up for a few minutes as a bad job. Captain Boyce succeeded in getting a semblance of it, when everybody got tired of carrying the candidates and of shouting. Then the secretary again started taking the vote by delegations. No one of the candidates received a majority of the votes which was necessary under the procedure adopted at the beginning of the caucus. Then began the withdrawals. This State withdrew its vote from Goerke and cast it for Humphrey; Chenoweth withdrew from the race and his vote went to Goerke, et cetera. A similar situation resulted on the second count and finally Goerke withdrew in favor of Humphrey. When Evans took the same action, Humphrey (first name Fred), described as the "rough-riding sailor from New Mexico," was elected.

Humphrey's speech of acceptance delighted the hearts of those who had forced the would-be orator to sit down at the beginning of the nominations.

"Mr. Chairman, gobs, soldiers, and marines," Humphrey said: "I am most glad and gracious to accept this honorary position and I will do everything that a deck-swabbing sailorman can do to fill it."

The first day's session closed with the appointment by the various States of representatives on the following committees: Executive Committee; Credentials; Temporary Name of Organization; Organization; Resolutions; Constitution and By-Laws and Declaration of Principles; Next Meeting Place and Time; Publication; Emblem; Permanent Headquarters, and Finance.

The personnel of these committees will be found elsewhere.

Thursday evening and Friday morning were devoted largely to committee meetings and different sections of the country came together to discuss matters of particular interest to special localities. For instance, the Western delegations discussed the question of Bolshevism, because the symptoms of this mad disease had been more apparent in that section of the country than in any other. The question of color was practically decided in a meeting of the Executive Committee and was ratified later by various delegations representing the Southern States. Everybody was pleased. An attempt was made by the leaders of each delegation to keep such questions as might be "_loaded with dynamite_" off the actual floor of the caucus so that those lacking in discretion might not have the opportunity to throw the caucus into an uproar.

In fact it was this spirit--the desire on everybody's part to give in to a certain extent on any mooted question for the sake of general harmony that was a marked feature of the gathering. In the committee meetings were found delegates with radically different opinions on almost every question. It was not an uncommon thing, however, to see a delegate very heatedly advocate a certain side of an issue; listen to the opposing side, rise, and with equal heat and fervency advocate the opposite point of view.

This spirit is highly significant. It will be one of the Legion's greatest powers. It was and is due to the fact that these new Americans are not cursed with fixed ideas. They have seen too much, lived through too much in their comparatively short lives to be narrow-minded. Over in the A.E.F. the former hod-carrier often turned out to be too good as a construction manager for any officer to despise his opinions. One noticeable characteristic of the American Legion delegate was the respect which he had for the other man's views and his willingness to admit outright that he was wrong in a thing or to go at least halfway with the opponent of his particular ideas. This was the saving grace of the caucus and this will be the saving grace of the Legion for the spirit which was manifested there is the spirit which will prevail at Minneapolis, and for always, because the American sailor and soldier will not change.

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


Chapter end

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