CHAPTER XXV. THE UNITED STATES AND THE WORLD WAR
The mobilization of the large armies required for the war proved the need of energetic reforms in fields that had earlier been too much neglected. The fact that so many as twenty-nine per cent. of the young men examined for the army between the ages of twenty-one and thirty had to be rejected because of physical defects was a cause of astonishment. The need of greater efforts in behalf of education was proved by the large number of illiterates discovered, and the necessity of training immigrants in the fundamentals of American government was so clearly demonstrated as to give rise to wide-spread plans for Americanization.
More definite were the effects of the war on the prohibition movement. For many years a small but growing minority of reformers had urged the adoption of means for stopping the use of intoxicating liquors and they had been successful in procuring constitutional amendments in about half the states by the close of 1916. The war presented an opportunity for further progress. In September, 1918, they procured the passage of a resolution in Congress allowing the President to establish zones around places where war materials were manufactured; liquors were not to be sold within these areas. Soon afterward the manufacture of beer and wine was forbidden until the conclusion of the war, on the ground that the grains and fruits needed for the production of these beverages could better be used as foods. In the meantime a federal constitutional amendment establishing prohibition had been referred to the states for ratification. By January 16, 1919, it had received the necessary ratification by three-fourths of the states and took effect a year later.
The railroads constituted another difficult problem. Agreement seemed to be general that they could not be relinquished by the government to private control without significant changes in existing legislation, and several forces, especially the insistence of the President and of the opponents of government ownership, combined to spur Congress to act on the matter at an early date. The Esch-Cummins law of February 28, 1920, was an important addition to the body of interstate commerce legislation. It enlarged and increased the powers of the Interstate Commerce Commission; it authorized the Commission to recommend government loans to the railroads; established a Railroad Labor Board to settle disputes between the carriers and their employees; empowered the Commission to require the joint use of track and terminal facilities in emergencies; forbade the construction of new lines and the issuance of stocks and bonds without the consent of the Commission; directed the preparation and adoption of plans for the consolidation of the railway properties into a limited number of systems; permitted pooling under the authorization of the Commission; and provided for the accumulation of reserve funds and a fund for purchasing additions to railway equipment. Whether a final solution of the transportation problem or not, the new act embodied much of the experience gained since the passage of the law of 1887.
In the field of politics and government an important part of reconstruction was the readjustment of relations between the federal executive and Congress. During the war it was inevitable that the President should provide most of the initiative in legislation; but it was likewise inevitable that the legislative branch should reassert itself as soon as possible. The fact that the consideration of the Treaty of Versailles necessarily concerned the Senate rather than the House of Representatives, gave the upper chamber an opportunity to attempt the repression of executive power to the proportions which had characterized it immediately before the war. Moreover if the members of the Senate should imitate the example of their predecessors in the conflict with President Johnson in 1867, that body might attempt to regain for itself the primacy in the federal government which had been partially lost under Cleveland's regime and completely superseded through Roosevelt's development of the presidential office.
The course of the Treaty in the Senate was such as to stimulate any friction which might result from the difficult process of reconstruction. Despite the early sentiment favorable to prompt ratification, that part of the Treaty which related to a League of Nations met a variety of opposing forces. Some of them were based on personal, political and partisan considerations, and some of them founded upon a sincere hesitancy about adventuring into new and untried fields of international effort. In the main, party lines were somewhat strictly drawn in the Senate, the Democrats favoring and the Republicans opposing ratification of the treaty as it stood. All debates in the Senate relating to the treaty were for the first time in our history open to the public, and popular interest was keen and sustained. Among people outside of Congress party lines were more commonly broken than in the Senate, and members of that body were deluged with petitions and correspondence for and against ratification. At length it appeared that a considerable fraction of the Senate desired ratification without any change whatever, a smaller number desired absolute rejection and a "middle group" wished ratification with certain reservations which would interpret or possibly amend portions of the plan for a League of Nations - portions which they felt were vague or dangerous to American interests. After long-continued discussion, the friends of the project were unable to muster the necessary two-thirds for ratification, and its enemies failed to obtain the majority required to make amendments, and the entire matter was accordingly postponed, pending the results of the presidential election of 1920.