July 3, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

Image Source: Library of Congress

Domestic terror is not a 21st Century phenomena. The front page of the Capital Journal reported an anti-war protestor exploding a bomb at the national capital:

Letter Sent To Newspaper Announces Blast To Be Set Off In Capitol
Perpetrator Says He Is Not A German But An Old Fashioned American

Washington, July 3. – Any doubt that may have existed that the explosion which wrecked the reception room on the east side of the capitol building last night was caused by a bomb was removed early today.

The Washington Times received a letter, mailed an hour and a half before the explosion occurred, announcing that there would be a blast at the capitol.

The letter received by the Times said:

“The unusual times and circumstances call for unusual means.

“In connection with the senate affair, would it not be well to stop and consider what we are doing?

“We stand for peace and good will toward all men, yet, while our European brethren are madly setting about to kill one another, we edge them on and furnish them more effective means of murder.

“We get rich by the exportation of explosives, but ought we to enrich ourselves when it means untold suffering and death to millions of brethren and their widows and orphans.”

“By the way don’t put this on the Germans or Bryan. I am an old Fashioned American with a conscience (if it is not a sin to have a conscience).

“We are within the law when we make this blood money, but are we also with the moral law – the law of peace, love or Christ or whatever a Christian nation may call it?”

After confessing responsibility for the explosion, the author of the letter to the Times, signed the name “R. Pearce” with a typewriter. It was then added:

“This is the exclamation point in the plea for peace.”

The letter was dated June 1, but was not mailed until last night, the date and hour showing plainly on the postmark. It appeared that the writer had been in Washington for several days looking over the government buildings, and determined where to explode the bomb. The letter was evidently written before the entrance to the senate wing was chosen, because while the letter was typewritten, the word “senate” was inserted in pencil in a blank space left for the world.

A second headline carries the same message and the same theme:

Crank Says Financier Started War and Could Stop It If He Would
Banker’s Wounds Not Serious – Overpowers His Assailant

Glencove, L.I., July 3. – J.P. Morgan was shot at his home here early today by an unidentified man, apparently of German extraction. The would-be assassin picked his way past the butler of the Morgan summer home, carrying a revolver in each hand. He rushed immediately into the presence of the financier and after a brief exchange of words, opened fire. Morgan is known to have been hit once . . . Before the would-be assassin could fire . . . [again], Morgan closed in and grappled with his assailant. With the assistance of the butler the man was overpowered and disarmed.

This was an era before Miranda Warnings:

At police headquarters the prisoner, apparently a tramp, refused to give his name, his business or his home or furnish the police with any account of himself. Soon after his arrest the police prepared to put him through the third degree.

The shooter, I.F. Holt, taught German at Cornell University. In his written statement, he provides an explanation for his actions:

My motive was to try to influence Mr. Morgan to use his influence in the manufacture of ammunition in the United States and among millionaires who are financing the war loans, to have an embargo put on shipments of ammunition so as to relieve the American people from complicity in the deaths of the thousands of our European brothers.

If Germany would be able to buy munitions here we would positively refuse to sell them to her, for the reason that the American people have not put an embargo upon them. We are getting rich in the selling of ammunition, but do we not get enough prosperity out of the shipment of non-contraband, and would it not be better for us to make what money we can without causing the slaughter of thousands in Europe?

I am very sorry I have caused the Morgan family this unpleasantness, but I believe that if Mr. Morgan would put his shoulder to the wheel he could accomplish what I had intended to do. I hope he will do so anyway. I did not mean to injure him, but I wanted him to do the work I could not do myself, and hope that with the help of God he will do this, as we must stop our part in the killing of Europeans.

In an earlier dispatch (13 March, 1915) the editor of the Statesman commented on the power of the major banks to act as the agent and middle-man in financing trade between the United States and the Entente powers. The headline in the Capital Journal referred to the shooter as a crank. Letters to the editor in the Salem papers and editorial comment in papers here and nationally reflected on the ethical and moral issues of profiting from the sale of munitions. As recently as May 7th, the Capital Journal had editorialized on “Our Sales of Munitions” noting that America profited more from the trade of food and clothing and raw materials than it did from the sale of arms and ammunition.

Where an avenue for profit exists, profit will be extracted. As the war progresses we will read of the increasing involvement of Wall Street and especially the House of Morgan in financing the war. We will read that the summer offensive of 1916 probably could not have taken place without the backing of the major banks in New York.

The economic foundation of the war was the subject of an editorial in the Capital Journal entitled “Why Not Free The Seas?” The subject of the editorial addressed the rights and limitations of neutrals or belligerents to go and come as they please and their rights on the high seas. The editorial argues that there can be “no private ownership to the sea. It can be dominated by brute force alone.” The editor comments on the economic causes of war:

Modern war grows from economic causes, they are matters of commerce and trade. Our Civil War was at the bottom a commercial war. The South thought it required chattel slavery for its business of cotton-growing and when it could not have slavery in the Union it tried to break away. The Napoleonic wars were trade wars pus the ambition of one man.

The present war is absolutely a trade war, nothing else. The question as to whether autocracy or democracy shall triumph is incidental. Declaring the seas neutral will remove one great economic cause of war.

This may seem a wild dream, but every idea that has finally crystallized into usage was one time a dream. the means of bringing this about will develop when the thought is ripe for application.


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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