By Jim O’Neal
On Jan. 31, 1917, Germany’s Navy Admiral Eduard von Capelle assured his nation’s parliament, Americans “will not even come, because our submarines will sink them. Thus America from a military point of view means nothing, and again nothing and for a third time nothing.”
American President Woodrow Wilson had been re-elected just months earlier on a campaign slogan of, “He kept us out of war.” Although the Germans were regularly sinking American ships in the Atlantic, Wilson had consistently declared, “America is too proud to fight.” However, a month after his inauguration, he led Congress to vote to enter World War I.
The 1916 presidential election was almost as bizarre as the one we suffered through in 2016. In this case, an incumbent president (Wilson) was running against Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican candidate. Wilson’s win was the first time a Democratic Party candidate had won two consecutive presidential elections since Andrew Jackson (1832).
But before the election, Democrats were so uncertain about their chances that they developed a radical plan to avoid leaving a potential four-month, lame-duck vacuum with war raging in Europe. It consisted of appointing president-elect Hughes (if he had won) as Secretary of State, followed by the resignation of Wilson’s vice president, Thomas Marshall. This would allow the new president to take residence in the WH immediately and avoid the gap until the scheduled March 1917 inauguration.
The Progressive Republicans had already essentially forfeited their chances by selecting Teddy Roosevelt for president and he had sent a telegram refusing their offer. The vice presidential candidate had already decided to support Hughes so that was out as well.
Admiral Capelle’s “they will never come” statement became one of history’s worst declarations when on May 29, the Allies launched a three-hour barrage of fire that exceeded what both sides fired during the entire four-year Civil War. The $180 million equated to $1 million of ordnance every 60 seconds. I suspect the folks in Afghanistan recently experienced something similar.
You can never tell about these American presidents.
Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].