At the beginning of the twentieth century, the U.S. Congress enjoyed a summer recess that spanned three months. For many senators and congressmen, the prospect of accompanying Secretary Taft on a peace mission aboard the S.S. Manchuria to such exotic places as Japan, the Philippines, and China must have seemed particularly alluring. Alice Roosevelt celebrated their arrival in San Francisco by shooting off fireworks and taking potshots at telegraph poles from the train platform with her hand-held revolver. It was July 4, 1905, an auspicious beginning to one of America’s first and largest missions to Asia. During the eight years that he was civil governor of the Philippines and Roosevelt’s secretary of war, Taft would travel over 100,000 miles. As a Taft historian, Henry Pringle, noted, “The S.S. Manchuria, steaming westward in July, was a Congressional ark with Taft as its Noah.”
The Taft party spent four days in San Francisco, which nine months later would be largely destroyed by the legendary 1906 earthquake and fire. On board the Manchuria, the travelers passed time with activities that might seem odd by today’s standards—a mock trial, a sheet and pillow-case party, martial arts demonstrations, evening wagers on the day’s run, and fancy dress parties. They also listened to lectures including a series of talks on the Philippines, played bridge, and walked miles around the deck
After the Taft party left San Francisco, they steamed across the Pacific for five days, briefly stopping in Honolulu, marking America’s recent takeover of the Hawaiian Islands. Their annexation in 1898 initiated the United States as a Pacific power. Here, the U.S. authorities staged a seventeen-gun salute for Secretary Taft and his party. Although their stopover was just for twelve hours, they managed to visit Pearl Harbor, tour a sugar plantation, and observe a hula dance. Alice Roosevelt almost missed the boat and delayed their departure.
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