February 7, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

HMS Lusitania. Source: Wikipedia.

The February 7th edition of the Oregon Statesman published the following article about the use of the American flag by the Lusitania while in the war zone:

AMERICAN FLAG ON LUSITANIA
Captain of Cunarder Uses Neutral Flag When in War Zone

The British Lusitania of the Cunard line, which sailed from New York January 30 and arrived at Liverpool thaws afternoon, flew the American flag from the time she passed Queenstown until she entered the Mersey. This is vouched for by American passengers who crossed on her.

* * * *

The Lusitania received a wireless from the Baltic, of the White Star line, that two submarines had been sighted from that vessel.

The captain of the Lusitania, in reply to a question of one of the passengers, declared that he had a right too fly the flag of a neutral country for the protection of neutral passengers and mails which his ship was carrying.

* * * *
Washington, Feb. 6. – Federal officials examined United States statutes tonight, following the report from London that the Lusitania went into port flying an American flag, to see what provisions are set down for such cases. They found that there is no law prohibiting the misuse of the American flag by foreign vessels, though the department of state has in the past ordered its consuls always to communicate full information as to such incidents.

On the Oregon Statesman’s editorial page is an editorial obituary of an aristocratic sponge:

SPONGES AND ARISTOCRACY

The administrators of the estate of John G. Wendel have certified to the surrogate court of Westchester county, New York, that the estate amounts to between $80,000,000 and $100,000,000 [in excess of two billion dollars in 2014 dollars, adjusted for inflation]. There are no debts. The property is to be divided among four sisters.

The fact is of interest because of the way this vast fortune was accumulated. It represents the accretions of an economic sponge, absorbing and absorbing until it was squeezed dry by death and its contents were duly noted by the law.

Wendel’s business was owning real estate – not dealing in real estate, but just owning it. He is said to have held more high priced Broadway frontage than any other man. He didn’t “make” his fortune; a sponge doesn’t make the water it holds. The community made it for him. New York had been working for the Wendel family for two centuries. And the family always kept old Father Knickerbocker hard at it.

The basic principle on which the Wendel millions were built was, “Never sell!” John Wendel himself said once, “In 200 years or more we have not sold a piece of property in New York, and we never shall.” Once he had to sell, when the city needed a piece of his land to make way for the Hudson tunnel terminal. He fought that with all his might. A sponge’s ideals of public duty are likely to be rudimentary. The sponge’s virtues are passive. The Wendels have always been pretty good citizens according to old fashioned standards. They paid their taxes promptly, and they were never arrested.

None of that big estate goes for libraries, colleges or churches. None of it goes to philanthropy in in any form. Land barons are seldom philanthropists.

And yet isn’t it strange that all through human history, aristocracy has been based on the ownership of land, and the family holding onto its land the a longest – and keeping others off it the longest – has been the most honored?

That is changing now. Economic sponges, who soak up the value that communities put into land by their constructive work, are losing prestige. The rich man most honored today is not the man who is rich because he has kept much from the community, but the man who is rich because he has contributed much to the community. The money that demands respect is the money made by the sweat of the owner’s face or the throb of his brain. The new aristocracy is the aristocracy of creative wealth. And the new aristocrats, because they are working shoulder to shoulder with the community instead of levying toll upon it, are also democrats.

A modern American would rather tip his hat to the upstart Thomas A. Edison than to any landed aristocrat in the world.

A second editorial comments on testimony before the industrial relations commission:

EVERYBODY FAVORS LABOR

The hearings of the industrial relations commission have been a revelation. Of the galaxy of big business men that have appeared to give their opinions on vital problems of labor and capital, no one has failed to grant the right of workmen to organize. Not one has questioned the principle of collective bargaining. Not one has denied to toilers the right to more than a mere living wage. Not one has presumed to claim for capital more than a fair profit. Not one has failed to acknowledge that employes should have a voice in fixing the conditions under which they work. Some capitalists have even declared that employes should have a voice in the actual control of industry.

The Commission on Industrial Relations, created by an act of. Congress in 1912 examined industrial working conditions in the United States. Testifying before the commission were people such as Louis Brandeis, Mary “Mother Jones” Harris, William “Big Bill” Haywood, Daniel Guggenheim, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie and scores of ordinary workers. The commission’s report contain thousands of pages of testimony from a wide range of witnesses, including Clarence Darrow, Louis Brandeis, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, Theodore Schroeder, William “Big Bill” Haywood and scores of ordinary workers.

The Oregon Statesman of this period was not a radical newspaper. In two editorials, the paper comments on the importance of community and of the rights of workers, the respective values of which are probably behind where they were at the time these editorials were written.

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About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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