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Tillman Maximum Battleships

The "maximum battleships," also known as the "Tillman Battleships" were a series of World War I-era design studies for extremely large battleships, prepared in late 1916 and early 1917 to the order of Senator "Pitchfork" Benjamin Tillman. The United States Navy was not interested in the designs at all, and only drew them up to win support from the Senator's Committee on Naval Affairs. They were among the most spectacular battleship designs ever produced.

Benjamin Ryan Tillman, (brother of George Dionysius Tillman), was a Democratic Senator from South Carolina. Born near Trenton, Edgefield County, S.C., August 11, 1847; Tillman pursued an academic course until he left school at age 17 in 1864 to join the Confederate Army, but was stricken with a severe illness. Thereafter he engaged in agricultural pursuits until he served as Governor of South Carolina 1890-1894. When Tillman was elected governor of South Carolina, he called his victory "a triumph of ... white supremacy." While in office, Governor Tillman advanced agricultural education in South Carolina by opening Clemson and Winthrop Colleges and was responsible pushing for the adoption of the dispensary law that implemented state control of the sale of liquor.

Tillman was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1894; reelected in 1901, 1907 and 1913 and served from March 4, 1895, until his death in Washington, DC, July 3, 1918. Tillman was censured by the Senate in 1902 after assaulting another Senator on the Senate floor. H werved as chairman, Committee on Revolutionary Claims (Fifty-seventh through Fifty-ninth Congresses), Committee on Five Civilized Tribes of Indians (Sixty-first and Sixty-second Congresses), Committee on Naval Affairs (Sixty-third through Sixty-fifth Congresses).

Tillman's agrarian populists gave him the leadership in the constitutional convention in 1895 that disenfranchised the state's African Americans. With the 1895 Constitution, Ben Tillman was very frank in his intentions: "We of the South," he said on the floor of the U.S. Senate, "have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and never will." An apologist for violence against blacks, his words were generally more inflammatory than his policies - he makes an effort to curb lynching in his state, while also advocating segregation and disfranchisement of black voters.

Tillman was known as "Pitchfork Ben" during his years in the Senate for promising to go to Washington to stick a pitchfork in President Grover Cleveland to get the economy moving. Grover Cleveland, the sitting president and titular head of his own Democratic party, was a Gold Democrat, and unsympathetic to Silver Democrat measures advocated by Tillman and others to cope with the economic depression that had begun in 1893, and affected cotton areas of the South even earlier. A farmer himself, Tillman spoke for agricultural interests as he saw them, directing particular hostility toward Wall Street, industrial interests, and the Northeast.

An agrarian populist, Tillman spent most of his Senate career in the minority and was usually a voice of opposition. But in 1906 he formed an unusual political coalition with Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, who enlisted Tillman's aid to win passage of tough new railroad regulation. In 1914, the Senate assisted the aging Senator Tillman by banning smoking in the Senate Chamber.

In the wake of the industrial expansion after the Civil War there developed a momentum for civic reform that led to the enactment of the Pendleton Civil Service Act of 1883, which stopped political partiesfrom raising money through compulsory assessments on federal employees. Not unnaturally, corporations filled the vacuum, and in due course demonstrated what concentrated capital could do. The resulting political leverage disturbed the confidenceof the plain people of small means in our political institutions. The 1904 Presidential campaign eventually "crystallized popular sentiment" on the subject of money and politics. Congress passed the Tillman Act of 1907: "it shall be unlawful for any national bank, or anycorporation organized by authority of any laws ofCongress, to make a money contribution in connection with any election to any political office." The law was the result of an unlikely alliance between Senator William Chandler, a New Hampshire radical Republican whom the railroad interests helped defeat in 1900, and Senator Benjamin Tillman, a South Carolina Democrat who ultimately succeeded in enacting the law that carries his name.

Senator Tillman had grown impatient with the Navy's requests for larger battleships every year as well as the Navy's habit of building battleships significantly larger than Congress authorized. He accordingly instructed the Navy to design "maximum battleships," the largest battleships that they could use.

The only limits on the potential size of an American battleship were the dimensions of the locks of the Panama Canal. The locks measure roughly 1000 feet by 110 feet, and so the "maximum battleships" were 975 feet (297 meters) long and 108 feet (33 meters) in beam. Harbor depths constrained draft to 32.75 feet (10 meters).

Tillman's first request, in 1912-1913, was never completed, and though the studies it involved had some influence on the design of the Pennsylvania class of battleships, that class was essentially just an enlargement of the preceeding Nevada class. In 1916, he repeated his request.

On 16 July 1916 he introduced into the Senate the following resolution : "Resolved, That the Committee on Naval Affairs be, and it is hereby, instructed to investigate and report to the Senate what is the maximum size of ship, whether battleship or cruiser; the maximum thickness of armor that stich ship can safely carry; the maximum size of gun; the maximum speed; the maximum desirable radius of action of such vessel that can safely be built so as to navigate the ocean and enter the first-class harbors of the world ; how much draft can such vessel carry in order to enter the existing dry docks in this country for repairs and safely pass through the Panama Canal, the object being to find out from authentic and reliable official sources the maximum size and maximum draft, the maximum armament, and the maximum thickness of armor to make the very best battleship or cruiser that the world has ever seen or will ever see; to have this country own the greatest marine engine of war ever constructed or ever to be constructed under known conditions; and to report whether one such overpowering vessel would not in its judgment be better for this country to build than to continue by increasing taxation to spend the millions and millions of dollars now in prospect in the race for naval supremacy. Let such vessel be named the "Terror" and become the peacemaker of the world. Let us find out just how far we can go with any degree of safety and go there at once. Let us leave some money in the Treasury for other more necessary and useful expenditures, such as good roads, controlling the floods in the Mississippi, draining swamp land in the South, and irrigating the arid land in the West."

This resolution got immediate consideration and was adopted by the Senate without a dissenting voice. The Senator was not serious in his proposal, but rather seems to have taken this course simply to ridicule the more effectively the present rivalry of armaments among the great powers, and the manner in which the country was allowing itself to be drawn into the furious current. The motives which led the Senators to approve offhand the resolution are perhaps less clear. Were they merely mercifully burying it in the files of the Committee on Naval Affairs, out of sympathy with the Senator from South Carolina in the affliction which has befallen him, or did they really, by this course, expect to get some light on the pressing problem of naval armament which is troubling all their dreams? The Committee on Naval Affairs seemed in part at least to have taken seriously the task which the resolution has laid upon it.

This time the Navy's Bureau of Construction and Repair produced a series of design studies, which again had some influence on the design of the next class of battleships, in this case the South Dakotas, an enlargement of the previous Colorado class.

After the first four design studies were complete, design IV was chosen for further development and three additional studies, IV-1, IV-2, and IV-3, were prepared. At the request of Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, these designs used 18-inch guns instead of the 16-inch/50-calibers used in the earlier studies. The Navy decided that design IV-2 was the most practical (or perhaps the least impractical) and presented it to Congress early in 1917.

These designs differed from the battleships being built in two significant ways beyond just their size. Firstly, unlike preceeding classes, the "maximum battleships" were designed with a continuous flush main deck. Most battleships in this era had a long forecastle deck. Secondly, the Tillman designs all included five casemate guns mounted aft, two on each side and one at the tip of the stern. Similar "stern chasers" had been previously mounted in the Nevada class, but were omitted from the Pennsylvania class. These casemates were a return to an older design idea; American battleship designers had abandoned hull-mounted casemates after the New Mexico class. They had transpired to be too "wet" -- heavy seas rendered them unuseable -- and they had been removed from all earlier classes. However, the casemates on the "maximum battleships" would have been higher above the waterline than they had been on earlier designs, so it is possible that their huge size and flush decks would have provided enough freeboard astern to keep the casemates dry.

To take the thing seriously, suppose that this "Terror" should be built, and America whould possess the mightiest Superdreadnaught in the world, a ship which could only just be gotten through the Panama Canal, how much nearer should America be to the end of naval rivalry? England laid down the first Dreadnaught a few years ago and thought that she had put all other governments out of the race. How long did they stay out? Germany, Japan and the United States all immediately took up the challenge, and Great Britain was harder pushed to keep ahead in the race than ever before. The trouble with this whole "maximum" business is that there is no possible maximum. If the American government should design and build the Tillman "Terror," it would not have been launched before England, Germany, France, Japan or Russia would have announced a bigger and complter monster. Then America should construct another and be compelled to rebuild the Panama Canal, push out its walls and greatly deepen it, at a cost of further hundreds of millions, in order to get this "overpowering vessel" through the big ditch.

The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 limited naval armaments, causing the cancellation of the South Dakota-class battleships and halting all consideration of the "maximum battleships."

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