1908 – Submarines Floating on a Sea of Champaign

1908 – Submarines floating on a sea of Champaign

In the winter of 1908, Connecticut House of Representative Member George L. Lilley brought a scathing accusation against members of the House of Representatives and a whole host of people who had been involved with the previous year’s submarine competition. The competition had determined that the Holland class submarine was the superior boat and that the government would go ahead and purchased over $3,000,000 dollars’ worth of new boats of the same kind.

The newspapers of the day were filled with all kinds of accusations about bribery, back room deals, champagne fueled cruises, top cigars and on and on. Every salacious detail was leaked to the hungry press and broadcast with increasing frequency and ire.

But in the end, was it true? Was the fix really in? And who might really be behind the attacks?

From an article in the Durango Newspaper in April of the previous year:

“Inventor Lake has been in legal and other controversy with the Holland Company for some years, and on one occasion when he thought that favoritism was being shown he said that, like Maxim and Hotchkiss, he might be driven out of the country and be obliged to sell his invention to Japan or some other sea power.”

So it should have come as no surprise that Representative Lilley or someone would come forward and make formal charges.


Submarine Orders Were Floated Through on Champagne

(Mail Special to the Advertiser.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. February 23. A great consumption of champagne, reaching into the thousands and even the tens of thousands of bottles, is being recalled in Washington at this particular juncture because of certain legislative occurrences. Only a few years ago – perhaps it was as much as five or six years ago this town experienced more champagne jags than had ever before been known. People got ’em in broad day light as well as along in the evening when real polite people who know the taste of that intoxicant are supposed to absorb it.

This is being recalled now because Representative Lilley, of puritanical strain from Connecticut, has introduced a resolution of inquiry about the methods a company, which has submarine boats to sell the government, has pursued in influencing the House Naval Affairs committee. That committee recently voted to buy eight of those submarines, where the Navy Department asked for only four.

If all the history of the work, representatives of submarine boats have done to get the government to buy, could be compiled and put on paper it would form an exceedingly interesting book. One chapter would be about that winter of champagne jags. In those days Navy officers were fighting submarines. Those officers were certain the boats would be of little use in warfare. They were invented by outsiders, which was enough to condemn the utility of the boats.

So the campaign with Congress was begun. The then owners of the same type of submarines, which are now involved in Representative Lilley’s resolution of inquiry, were willing to burn some money on their venture. They believed in it, and apparently with reason, for the building of Holland boats has become a great industry and the necessity of the boats in modern warfare is now recognized by naval authorities here and abroad. A very clever manager was sent to Washington to take charge of the campaign. One of the boats was exhibited on the Potomac, as long as the river was open. People from Congress were taken down to the river front, placed aboard ship and carried down where the water was deep enough for the new boat to “dive.” Some Congressmen, who wanted an experience, like that President Roosevelt wanted some two or three years ago, ventured into the invention and went down under the waters of the Potomac. They saw the machinery work as the boat stood on one end or the other end, and moved upward or downwards horizontally at the option of the man in command. Of course it demonstrated what a wonderful Invention the submarine boat was.

But incidentally going and coming to the “dive” there was plenty of champagne and the best quality of Havana cigars. The people interested in the invention preferred to entertain their “guests” royally. Perhaps it was not their fault that some Congressmen drank champagne as though they had never seen it before and never expected to see any more. Congressmen are very like some other mortals. When the drinks and the cigars are free, these people are apt to gorge themselves, especially those who are not well-tutored in gentle manners and customs.

So there was great hilarity on board the ships that plied to and fro on the Potomac on excursions to witness the diving of the submarine. When the river froze over the submarine was taken down to Annapolis, where the water is salt and does not freeze. This was no deterrent, however, to the drinking of champagne by thirsty Congressmen. Annapolis and the naval academy is only an hour away by rail and special trains were chartered to take more Congressmen down to see the boat dive. Great trainloads of statesmanship started for Annapolis at stated intervals, and no train ever pulled out of the Washington station before the champagne corks began to pop. Everybody was expected to eat, drink and be merry, for there were eatables as well as drinkables on board.

For these divers excursions there were hundreds of headaches the next day and hundreds of cross and snappy Congressmen. But the campaign eventually won and plenty of the government’s money was voted to buy submarines. Nowadays there is no question about the wisdom of buying submarines. Millions of money have been invested in them.

However, there is keen competition, and the representatives of the two or three rival companies come down to Washington every winter. Fierce efforts ensue to persuade Congress to draw the provisions of the naval appropriation bill so that only one company can possibly be recognized In the bidding. There are fierce efforts, also, to have the provisions so drawn that all the submarine boat builders may have a “look in” on the prospective contracts. Certain members of the House Naval Committee are known to be friendly to certain types of submarine boats, and it is noticeable that, while they have no bottles of champagne on tap, they have well-stocked cupboards in their committee rooms, where friends can always have a drink of “red eye” and a smoke.

All these things have led to charges and countercharges, and also to Representative Lilley’s resolutions of inquiry. If a House committee undertakes to investigate, there might be some interesting developments. If the bills for entertainment could be scrutinized there would be amazement, for, of course, in the long run Congress has to foot those bills when it pays such fat prices for the submarine boats.

If the names of Congressmen who find it convenient every few mornings to drop by the hotel where the representatives of the submarines hold forth could be brought to the public eye, some Congressmen would probably have a hard time getting back next November. At present, no one in Washington thinks it likely that such information will be brought to light. Involved in the proposed inquiry is the big fight between Republican factions as to whether an enormous battleship program, such as the President wants, shall be authorized, or whether there shall be a more conservative building program. The House Committee on Naval Affairs Is split up into cliques that fight one another viciously, in which respect that committee differs materially from the Senate Naval Committee that always holds aloof from squabbles and legislates calmly upon the authorization of new ships. Meanwhile there is a tremendous hubbub in the House, and the submarine boat rumpus is causing a terrible tempest.


By February 24, Lilley was finding himself under some very bright lights indeed.

Lilley in a Clash

Congressman Implicates Newspaper Correspondents in Naval Scandal

Declare Story That They Would Stifle Investigation a Malicious Lie

The you’re-a-liar stage of the charge of corruption against members of the house naval affairs committee by Representative Lilley of Connecticut, was reached on Saturday and Mr. Lilley added to his sensation by charging that four newspaper correspondents, whose names he had in a little book, were in the employ of the Holland, or Electric Boat company.

The resolution to investigate the conduct of the Electric Boat Company’s alleged lobby methods is before the committee on rules and Mr. Lilley had a conference with Speaker Cannon. He will formulate a written statement to the rules committee when his resolution is taken up. Meantime, the affair is still the talk of the house end of the capitol.

It was Mr. Lilley himself who used the shorter and uglier word, and he used it to a newspaper correspondent who wrote a story for his paper Saturday morning to the effect that the Electric Boat Company had contributed to the congress campaign funds of both parties, and for this reason Mr. Sherman and Mr. Griggs, the chairmen of the house congressional committees, would look to it that both the republicans and the democrats on the rules committee would see that the proposed Investigation’ would not be made.

“It is a malicious lie,” said Mr. Sherman at the White House, Saturday morning. It was more kinds of a lie than that in the opinion of Mr. Griggs as far as it refers to him. “It is a deliberate, unqualified, and malicious lie,” said he.

By the time the house met at noon Mr. Griggs had suffered his ire to rise so high a pitch that those who gathered around him on the floor of the house expected to see him walk up to Mr. Lilley and perform his function as a southern gentleman by injecting a vigorous fist Into the Connecticut statesman’s face.

As a preliminary to this, however, Judge Adamson of Georgia was dispatched with a brief note, asking Mr. Lilley if he had said what was attributed to him. The house was considering a district bill. Far back in the hall, Mr. Lilley sat alone. He turned slightly pale, stirred nervously in his chair, fidgeted and fumbled with some papers on his desk as he read the note. “By no means”, he said to Judge Adamson. Mr. Griggs appeared and proposed to introduce the testimony of the correspondent who had written the article.

“You are an employee of the Holland Boat Company,” said Mr. Lilley to the correspondent who was brought. “I have been warned against you, and you are a liar.”

“You are taking advantage of your position on the floor of the house to insult me,” said the correspondent.

“I will go with you to any remote spot in this district and repeat the statement,” said Mr. Lilley, to which the correspondent made no further answer than that while the gentleman was going to that remote spot he might as well go to a hotter clime.

Down in front of the speaker’s desk Messrs. Griggs, Sherman, Adamson and Lilley met the correspondent again shortly afterward.

Mr. Lilley has been making a number of charges against various members in connection with the submarine matter and others. Several members are quoted as saying they heard him make the remark attributed to him by the correspondent. The charge of graft is quite common with him, and members assert that they want him to do some proving of his charges.

The Morning Journal Courier Monday February 24, 1908

Lilley got the investigation he asked for.

But in the end, things did not go as planned for either Lilley or the Lake Company.

May 20. 1908 Washington Times


The Representative Charged With Bad Faith.


Accused of Knowingly Making False Accusations.


No Navy Official, Press Representative, Member of Naval Committee or of the House Corruptly Influenced.

That Representative George L. Lilley of Connecticut was not warranted in bringing charges against certain of his colleagues in the House and accredited members of the press is the conclusion reached by the special committee named by Speaker Cannon to investigate methods employed by the Electric Boat Company of New Jersey in connection with legislation before Congress. In an exhaustive report submitted to the House today Chairman Boutell and his colleagues review the testimony brought out before the committee in hearings extending over several weeks, and declare with entire unanimity that no member of the House and no representative of the press has been induced by officers of the Electric Boat Company to act from corrupt or improper motives.

Furthermore, the committee finds that Mr. Lilley allowed himself to he used as an instrument of the Lake Torpedo Boat Company in questioning the integrity and fairness of the members of the investigating committee and in attacking a competing submarine company. Mr. Lilley is charged also with maintaining an attitude of bad faith both in bringing the charges and concealing from the committee the identity of the real parties in interest behind the investigation.

The investigation grew out of a resolution introduced by Mr Lilley in the House February 20 last asking that a committee be appointed to investigate the conduct of the Electric Boat Company of New Jersey and its predecessor, the Holland Company, respecting the methods employed by the companies named in connection with past and proposed legislation before Congress The resolution was referred to the committee on rules, and March 8 the committee reported back recommending that the Speaker name a committee of five to investigate the charges, which was done. The hearings began March 9 and closed April 30th. The testimony was taken in Washington, New York and New Orleans.

Unanimous Conclusions.

The conclusions reached by the unanimous act of the committee follows:

First. That House resolution 235 introduced by Mr. Lilley was an impotent resolution, and no evidence could have been compelled thereunder, and that this investigation required the adoption of House resolution 288 of the committee on rules, under which the inquiry has proceeded

Second. That Mr. Lilley’s resolution was not introduced in good faith

Third. That Mr. Lilley had no information to justify his charges made before the committee on rules

Fourth. That Mr. Lilley acted in bad faith in making his charges before the committee on rules.

Fifth. That Mr. Lilley acted in bad faith in stating before this committee that he had made no charge reflecting upon members of the House before the committee on rules.

Sixth That Mr. Lilley allowed himself to be used as an instrument of’ the Lake Torpedo Boat Company in its rivalry and attack upon a competing company.

Lilley’s Real Object.

Seventh. That Mr. Lilley’s real object in introducing his resolution and making his charges was the same as the purpose of the “propaganda” of the Lake Torpedo Boat Company, namely, the defeat of the clause In the naval committee’s bill relating to submarines.

Eighth. That Mr. Lilley acted in bad faith in concealing from your committee the real parties in interest who were behind this Investigation and furnishing him with information and evidence.

Ninth. That the charge that the four battleship proposition was defeated by the adoption of the submarine clause in the naval committee’s bill was false; that Mr. Lilley. As a member of the naval committee knew that the charge was false, and that he refused to maintain the charge before this committee.

Tenth. That Representative Loud was made the object of anonymous charges that were without any foundation in fact.

Eleventh. That Mr. Lilley violated his obligation as a member of this House in formulating and urging before this committee the groundless charges against Representative Loud.

Twelfth. That Mr. Lilley acted in contempt of this House in destroying the forged letter from Webster to Edinborough instead of delivering it to this committee.

Violated Obligations.

Thirteenth. That Mr. Lilley violated his obligations as a member of this House in permitting his clerk to send out letters in Mr. Lilley’s name reflecting upon the honor and integrity of members of this House

Fourteenth. That Mr. Lilley acted In contempt of this House in not disavowing openly upon the floor of the House the letter to Goff, published over his signature reflecting upon the honor and integrity of members of this House.

Fifteenth. That no official of the navy has been induced by the officers of the Electric Boat Company, or anyone else, to act in his official capacity from corrupt or improper motives.

Sixteenth. That Mr. Lilley’s charge of excessive profits in the submarine contracts was based on fictitious figures, composed by an agent of the Lake Torpedo Boat Company, by a perversion of the testimony of Admiral Bowles in 1902.

False Charge.

Seventeenth. That the charge that an excessive profit in the submarine contracts was due to special and exclusive legislation In favor of one company was false, and Mr. Lilley knew that the charge was false when it was made.

Eighteenth. That no representatives of the press have been bribed or corrupted by the Electric Boat Company.

Nineteenth. That no member of the committee on naval affairs has been induced by the officers of the Electric Boat Company, or anyone else, to act in his official capacity from corrupt or improper motives.

Twentieth. That no member of this House has been induced by the officers of the Electric Boat Company, or anyone else, to act In his official capacity from corrupt or improper motives.

Twenty-first. That the only two attorneys employed by the Electric Boat Company in the districts of members of the naval committee and remote from the business of said company did not exercise a corrupting influence upon either Mr. Lilley or Mr. Loud, in whose districts they lived.

Twenty-second. That no campaign or other contributions were made by the Electric Boat Company to any member of this House, or to any campaign committee or fund of any political party. .

Twenty-third. That Mr. Lilley has sworn repeatedly, including his last appearance before this committee, that he had no further suggestions, facts or sources of Information, and that he had withheld from the committee nothing that would tend to sustain his charges.






Nothing Discussed Today But the Lilley Report.

It is almost needless to say that there wasn’t anything discussed at the House end of the Capitol today save the excoriation of Representative Lilley of Connecticut by the unanimous report of the five members of the special committee of investigation, of which Representative Boutell of Illinois is chairman.

As soon as the clerk began to read the report this morning, immediately upon the convening of the House, and the members as they entered the chamber found on their desks a printed copy of this dynamite document and had a chance to glance at the twenty-three distinct conclusions arrived at by the committee, everybody began to wonder what would be the result.

All day long the House gallery has been crowded with newspaper men waiting to see what will happen when the clerk concludes the reading of the document. It is the same way on the floor. Members are not certain just what variety of fireworks, if any, will be exploded.

A member of the House committee on naval affairs recalled today for the benefit of a Star reporter that since introducing his resolution providing for an Investigation of the conduct before Congress of the Electric Boat Company of New Jersey Mr. Lilley had not attended a single meeting of the committee on naval affairs, and, so far as this member knew, had not been inside the committee room, where formerly he was a dally, and even hourly, visitor. Nor has Mr. Lilley been on the floor of the House since the last week In April or shortly before, when he retired to his apartment in the New Willard Hotel and it became known that he was ill. And soon after this he left Washington, for at the Willard today a Star reporter was told that no one around there had seen Mr. Lilley for two weeks.

The House Select Committee on Lilley Charges was an effort by Congressman George L. Lilley—pictured here, standing—to investigate his allegation of corrupt practices on behalf of the Electric Boat Company to influence legislative appropriations made by Members of Congress on the Naval Affairs Committee.

The Committee ultimately found the charges to be unsubstantiated and indicated that Lilley had acted in bad faith—some Members even called for his expulsion from the House. Lilley was never expelled, and he went on to be governor of Connecticut.

Lilley was elected as a Republican to the Fifty-eighth, Fifty-ninth, and Sixtieth Congresses, holding office from March 4, 1903 to January 5, 1909. He did not seek re-nomination in 1908, having become a candidate for Governor. By resolution of the House of January 20, 1909, the seat was declared to have been vacated on January 6, 1909 for the reason that incumbent had entered upon the duties of the office of Governor of Connecticut the preceding day, however this only occurred because Lilley submitted his letter of resignation to the Governor of Connecticut instead of the Speaker of the House.

Lilley won the 1908 Republican gubernatorial nomination, and was elected Governor of Connecticut. During his short tenure, he increased funding for the public school system and appropriations were budgeted for a statewide movement against tuberculosis. He also endorsed governing monopolies and establishing a public service commission, but both issues were defeated by the legislature.

Lilley was Governor of Connecticut from January 6, 1909 until his death on April 21, 1909 in Hartford. He was 49 when he died.

The rest of the story:

Lilley was a broken man by the time he left Washington. The pressure from the investigation wrecked his mental and physical health. Contemporary reports are that he was often incapable of even standing and performing daily activities. Why he was even encouraged to run for governor is one of the mysteries of the ages. It is indeed a sad ending. But the growth of the American submarine fleet continued with the Electric Boat Company occupying a dominant place in its development.

Mister Mac

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