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France Sends Anti-German Ambassador to Russia

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in 2014, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 96th installment in the series. 

December 23, 1913: France Sends Anti-German Ambassador to Russia, Federal Reserve Created

Aside from the foreign minister, the most important job in the French diplomatic universe was ambassador to Russia. As guardian of the sacred Franco-Russian Alliance, the French minister to St. Petersburg was responsible for shoring up the key pillar of French national security, which meant reassuring the Russians of French commitment while politely extracting more concrete guarantees from the Russians.

The appointment of Theophile Delcassé as ambassador to the court of the Tsar in February 1913 sent a clear message to friend and foe alike. A former foreign minister and one of the main architects of the Franco-Russian Alliance, Delcassé was convinced that France was on a collision course with Germany, leading Kaiser Wilhelm II to call him “the most dangerous man for Germany in France.” Before leaving for Russia Delcassé told Maurice Paléologue (top), the foreign ministry’s (also ferociously “anti-German”) political director: “We are inevitably headed toward a great European conflict, and it will be France which will bear the first blow… for make no mistake about it, Germany will attack us through Belgium… It is necessary, therefore, that the Russian ally be in such a state to be able to launch a full-scale offensive in the shortest possible time…”

Over the course of 1913, Delcassé (along with French commander-in-chief Joseph Joffre and President Raymond Poincaré) firmed up the Russian alliance, resulting in a new military convention, signed in September 1913, confirming and elaborating their plans for near-simultaneous attacks on Germany; this included a personal promise from Tsar Nicholas II to invade East Prussia within 15 days of mobilization (M+15) in hopes of forcing the Germans to divert forces from their attack on France.

But in the winter of 1913 Delcassé, complaining of ill health (and nursing political ambitions back home) let it be known that he would like to return to France. Opportunistic as always, on December 23, 1913, Poincaré seized the chance to cement his control over French foreign policy by nominating his friend Paléologue to replace Delcassé in St. Petersburg—thus sending someone who was perhaps even more virulently anti-German than Delcassé, if that were possible, to represent the Republic in Russia. 

Paléologue’s appointment was especially significant in the context of the continuing Liman von Sanders Affair, which the Russians viewed as a test of French solidarity in the face of German bullying. President Poincaré had previously hinted he might support Russia’s claims to control the Ottoman capital Constantinople and the Turkish straits, and Paléologue—whose family claimed (probably spurious) descent from Byzantine emperors—would support Russian claims to the ancient city in the coming conflict, helping pave the way for the disastrous Gallipoli Expedition. 

Paléologue’s appointment further consolidated the Franco-Russian Alliance during the final countdown to war, as both partners signaled their determination not to tolerate German bullying, relying on their mutual defensive agreement for strength. Bidding farewell to Paléologue in January 1914, French Prime Minister Gaston Doumergue left no doubt about the main thrust of his mission to St. Petersburg: “War can break out from one day to the next… Our allies must rush to our aid.” Meanwhile, Tsar Nicholas II echoed Poincaré’s earlier calls for a firm line against Germany, warning the departing Delcassé, “We shall not let ourselves be trampled upon.” 

Federal Reserve Created

On December 23, 1913, Congress passed and President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act, creating a new national bank and massively increasing the government’s power to intervene in the economy by setting interest rates and controlling the supply of money. 

The United States had had national banks before: In 1791, Congress chartered the First Bank of the United States at the urging of Alexander Hamilton, who wanted the federal government to assume the Revolutionary War debts of the states to stabilize their finances and foster adherence to the new nation. But the national bank faced fierce opposition from Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other critics who feared official corruption and federal aggrandizement. In 1833, Andrew Jackson shut down the Second Bank of the United States (the successor institution chartered in 1816), which he accused of favoring northeastern industrial interests over small farmers on the frontier. To “democratize” the financial system Jackson transferred the national bank’s funds to state banks (“pet banks”) mostly selected for political loyalty to Jackson and his allies in the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, “wildcat” banks free from federal regulation sprang up around the country and began issuing huge amounts of bank notes with little or no backing, resulting in financial collapse and the Depression of 1837. 

During the Civil War, Congress created a new system of “national banks” to finance the war and introduce the first uniform national currency, but stopped short of creating a new central bank, so the new national banks (which mostly operated like state banks) lacked the backing of a “lender of last resort” to supply emergency funds in the event of a financial crisis. That’s what happened in 1907, when a failed attempt to corner the stock of the United Copper Company on Wall Street triggered financial panic and bank runs across the U.S. Total financial collapse was averted by the frantic efforts of J.P. Morgan and bank presidents, essentially acting as an improvised central bank, but the public’s confidence was badly shaken and a steep economic downturn ensued. 

The Panic of 1907 laid the groundwork for the formation of the Federal Reserve System, beginning with the creation of a National Monetary Commission in 1908, followed by a top-secret meeting of bankers hosted by Delaware Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury A.P. Andrew at Jekyll Island, Georgia, in 1910, where they agreed on an outline for a National Reserve Bank. In January 1911 the National Monetary Commission formally recommended the formation of a National Reserve. After two years of debate over the balance between political and private control, the bill to create the Federal Reserve System – composed of regional Federal Reserve Banks owned by private banks, supervised by an independent Board of Governors, and backed by the “full faith and credit” of the United States—was introduced in the House of Representatives on August 29, 1913, passed by the Senate on December 18, approved by a joint conference committee on December 22 and 23, and immediately signed by President Wilson on the latter date.

During the First World War, the Federal Reserve helped protect the U.S. and world financial system from the initial shocks of the war, then became a key financier of the U.S. and Allied war efforts, with the New York Fed leading the way. To facilitate this process in 1916 and 1917, Congress lowered the amount of “real” money the Fed had to hold as collateral for loans, and also changed the rules so government debt could serve as collateral; this helped increase the money supply to fund the war effort, but also resulted in major inflation, with the purchasing value of the dollar decreasing by roughly half from 1914 and 1920. After the war the Fed’s “easy money” policies helped fuel the economic expansion of the “Roaring 20s,” but also contributed to the credit bubble that finally popped in 1929, triggering the Great Depression. 

See the previous installment or all entries

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12 Solid Facts About New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain
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On May 3, 2003, the craggy rock face known as New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain tumbled to the ground in spectacular fashion. For a landmark that had been in the state's DNA for generations, its collapse was like a death in the family to some. The day after it fell, people left flowers at the base of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park as a sort of funeral tribute, and plans were immediately launched to create a longer-lasting memorial. So what was so great about the Old Man of the Mountain, pre- and post-crumble? Read on for the stone-cold facts.

1. THANKS TO NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, THE OLD MAN WAS ALSO KNOWN AS “THE GREAT STONE FACE.”

Although not explicitly named, it’s widely believed Hawthorne based his 1850 short story "The Great Stone Face"—which was set in an anonymous state that happens to look like New Hampshire—on the Old Man. At that time, the mountainous figure was already a tourist draw to the Granite State. Hawthorne described it as an “enormous giant, or a Titan,” with a “broad arch of the forehead,” a long-bridged nose, and having “vast lips.” Eventually Hawthorne’s nickname stuck, along with other loving titles like “Old Man” and “the Profile.”

2. THE "FACE" WAS ACTUALLY A SERIES OF LEDGES.

These granite cliff ledges, 40 feet tall and 25 feet wide, when viewed from the north at certain angles looked like a jagged face. Hawthorne corroborated this, writing in “The Great Stone Face”: “If the spectator approached too near, he lost the outline of the gigantic visage, and could discern only a heap of ponderous and gigantic rocks ... Retracing his steps, however, the wondrous features would again be seen; and the farther he withdrew from them, the more like a human face, with all its original divinity intact, did they appear."

3. HE COULD HAVE BEEN 12,000 YEARS OLD.

An 1856 postcard of The Old Man of the Mountain
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Old Man was first discovered and recorded in 1805 by road surveyors Francis Whitcomb and Luke Brooks, which put the landmark at nearly 200 years old by the time it fell. But it likely first formed when water inside cracks in the granite bedrock froze and thawed following the retreat of glaciers about 12,000 years ago. (This freezing and thawing process was what hastened its eventual collapse.) According to geologist Brian Fowler in a research report by the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund, the lower ledge—or chin—of the Old Man is assumed to have fallen first. Once that support was gone, the rest of the rock fell in formation.

4. CANNON MOUNTAIN WAS SO NAMED BECAUSE IT LOOKS LIKE ANTIQUE ARTILLERY.

The Old Man jutted from a cliff in Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, within Franconia Notch State Park. Originally named Profile Mountain, it took on a new name since its granite dome resembles a cannon from select vantage points. There are even three sub-peaks, nicknamed “The Cannon Balls.”

5. SOME OF THE STRONGEST SURFACE WINDS EVER IN THE U.S. WERE RECORDED ON TOP OF CANNON MOUNTAIN.

The gusts measured 199.5 mph on April 2, 1973. While impressive, they were likely even higher since 199.5 mph was the limit of what the researchers' instruments could record at the time. The highest surface wind gust in the U.S. still belongs in-state, though, with New Hampshire's Mount Washington recording 231 mph winds in 1934.

6. A SERIES OF TURNBUCKLES AND IRON TIES WERE PLACED WITHIN ITS FACE TO KEEP IT TOGETHER.

By 1916, as it became clear the Old Man might not live forever, the first efforts to protect the rock formation were made. By the 1920s, a crack in the Old Man’s "forehead" was clearly noticeable, and residents who were worried about its safety used chains, turnbuckles, and iron ties to keep the crack from separating. Many of those metal rods used to hold the Old Man together were still attached to the mountain years later.

7. THE STATE EVENTUALLY SPENT A SMALL FORTUNE TRYING TO SAVE IT.


Julius Hall, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1957, the New Hampshire state legislature passed a $25,000 appropriation for the necessary repairs to slow the Old Man's deterioration. These steps included quick-drying cement and steel rods meant to fill in and fortify cracks. The rocky Band-Aids were maintained every summer.

8. THE CARETAKERS’ MAINTENANCE ROUTINES WERE METICULOUS.

One longtime caretaker, Niels Nielsen, took great pains to keep the Old Man clean since 1965. Nielsen would spray bleach on the rock face and in its cracks, then carefully remove moss and lichen in an effort to prevent cracks from spreading further. He would even clean out the Old Man’s ear with a garden hoe. When Nielsen retired, he passed the job on to his son, David. The face continued to be groomed until its collapse.

9. NIELS NIELSEN SAW THE OLD MAN AS A GIFT FROM GOD.

According to Yankee Magazine, Nielsen was rather enchanted by the rock formation. “I had sailed around the world as a merchant seaman, yet I had never seen anything like the Old Man," he said. "I don’t believe anyone can be up there and not feel the presence of God."

10. BUT EVEN NIELSEN KNEW IT MIGHT FALL SOME DAY.

Nielsen was asked by Yankee what would happen if the Old Man ever fell. “The Lord put him here, and the Lord will take him down," Nielsen replied. Research concluded its collapse was natural—that the freezing-thawing process and subsequent erosion over time caused its downfall.

11. YOU CAN STILL "SEE" THE OLD MAN.


Rob Gallagher, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The image of the Old Man has lived on as a state emblem since 1945, appearing on highway signs, on the back of drivers licenses, and on the reverse of the state quarter. But residents weren’t done with honoring the now-deceased rock face. At Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza and Historic Site in Franconia, special viewfinders and steel “profilers” at vantage points near Profile Lake offer a glimpse of what the formation used to look like.

12. THERE’S EVEN AN OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN FLOWER.

Old-Man-of-the-Mountain, or tetraneuris grandiflora, is found in the Intermountain Regions and Rocky Mountains in states like Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. It’s sometimes called an alpine sunflower and got its common name from the wooly hairs that cover its leaves.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Take a Closer Look at the $17 Billion 'Holy Grail of Shipwrecks'

Feast your eyes on these new images of the treasure among the wreckage of the Spanish ship San José, often called the "holy grail of shipwrecks." When it sank on June 8, 1708, it was carrying gold, silver, jewels, and other precious cargo worth roughly $17 billion today. Now, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is revealing the major role it played in the 2015 expedition to find the San José.

The three-masted, 62-gun Spanish galleon exploded and sank at the hands of the British during the War of the Spanish Succession. It was carrying its riches to the Colombian city of Cartegena to finance the war. Archaeologists had been trying to find the San José for decades before it was finally located on November 27, 2015, during an expedition organized by Colombia, Maritime Archaeology Consultants (MAC), and WHOI. The multibillion-dollar treasure, which still sits nearly 2000 feet below the surface of the ocean near Cartegena, is just now being revealed.

WHOI's autonomous underwater vehicle REMUS 6000 was responsible for finding the elusive wreck. REMUS has been with the project since the beginning: The machine created the first side-scan sonar images of the site. After that, REMUS journeyed to a point 30 feet above the site and captured high-resolution photos of the ship's distinctive bronze cannons, which are engraved with dolphins. REMUS's documentation of this defining feature allowed scientists to positively identify the wreck as the fabled San José. (Thanks to whoever had the idea to put dolphins on the cannon in the first place.)

WHOI also released REMUS's photos of the wreckage, which show details of the horde, including ceramics and those famous cannons. "This constitutes one of the greatest—if not the biggest, as some say—discoveries of submerged patrimony in the history of mankind,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said back when the treasure was discovered.

The San José's treasure is the subject of a legal battle for ownership between Colombia and U.S. salvage company Sea Search Armada, which helped look for the wreck. In 2011, four years before the San José was even found, the court ruled that the booty belongs to Colombia, but the dispute is ongoing. Because of the legal drama, the exact location of the wreck remains a government secret.

Below, check out the newly released pictures for a closer look at cannons, teacups, and other ceramics.

cannons from the San Jose
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

pots from the San Jose
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

teacups from the San Jose
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

REMUS 6000
REMUS 6000
Mike Purcell, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


A mosaic of images taken by the REMUS 6000 depicts the whole site.
A mosaic of images taken by the REMUS 6000 depicts the whole site.
Jeff Kaeli, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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