IN THE United States on the opening of Congress in January, 1890, a newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives was in the Chair. A physical giant, six feet three inches tall, weighing almost three hundred pounds and dressed completely in black, “out of whose collar rose an enormous clean-shaven baby face like a Casaba melon flowering from a fat black stalk, he was a subject for a Frans Hals, with long white fingers that would have enraptured a Memling.” Speaking in a slow drawl, he delighted to drop cool pearls of sarcasm into the most heated rhetoric and to watch the resulting fizzle with the bland gravity of a New England Buddha. When a wordy perennial, Representative Springer of Illinois, was declaiming to the House his passionate preference to be right rather than President, the Speaker interjected, “The gentleman need not be disturbed; he will never be either.” When another member, notorious for ill-digested opinions and a halting manner, began some remarks with, “I was thinking, Mr. Speaker, I was thinking …” the Chair expressed the hope that “no one will interrupt the gentleman’s commendable innovation.” Of two particularly inept speakers, he remarked, “They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.” It was said that he would rather make an epigram than a friend. Yet among the select who were his chosen friends he was known as “one of the most genial souls that ever enlivened a company,” whose conversation, “sparkling with good nature, was better than the best champagne.” He was Thomas B. Reed, Republican of Maine, aged fifty. Already acknowledged after fourteen years in Congress as “the ablest running debater the American people ever saw,” he would, before the end of the session, be called “the greatest parliamentary leader of his time,… far and away the most brilliant figure in American politics.”
Although his roots went back to the beginning of New England, Reed was not nurtured for a political career by inherited wealth, social position or landed estate. Politics in America made no use of these qualities, and men who possessed them were not in politics. Well-to-do, long-established families did not shoulder—but shunned—the responsibilities of government. Henry Adams’ eldest brother, John, “regarded as the most brilliant of the family and the most certain of high distinction,” who made a fortune in the Union Pacific Railroad, “drew himself back” from government, according to his brother. “He had all he wanted; wealth, children, society, consideration; and he laughed at the idea of sacrificing himself in order to adorn a Cleveland Cabinet or get cheers from an Irish mob.” This attitude was not confined to the rather worn-out Adamses. When the young Theodore Roosevelt announced his intention of entering politics in New York in 1880, he was laughed at by the “men of cultivated and easy life” who told him politics were “low” and run by “saloon-keepers, horse-car conductors and the like,” whom he would find “rough, brutal and unpleasant to deal with.”
The abdication of the rich was born out of the success of the American Revolution and the defeat of Hamilton’s design to organize the State in the interests of the governing class. Jefferson’s principles and Jackson’s democracy had won. The founding fathers and the signers of the Declaration had been in the majority men of property and position, but the very success of their accomplishment ended by discouraging men of their own kind from participating in government. With the establishment of universal manhood suffrage, men of property found themselves counting for no more at the polls than the common man; being far outnumbered they retired from the combat. No President after the first six came from a well-established family (unless the Harrisons could be considered to so qualify). Retreating to the comfort of their homes and the pursuits of their class, they left government increasingly to hard-driving newcomers pushing up from below. Such energies as they had they devoted to making money in banking and trade, rather than from the land which they gradually abandoned. The great estates of the Dutch-descended patroons of New York declined first; the Southern plantations went with the Civil War; Boston’s old families remained active and prosperous but on the whole aloof from government. The proud “Hub” had produced no President after the first two Adamses. “The most valuable, most moderate, able and cultivated part of the population,” wrote Emerson, in his essay on Politics, “is timid and merely defensive of property.”
Forty years later the Englishman James Bryce was struck by the “apathy among the luxurious classes and fastidious minds,” and devoted a whole chapter in The American Commonwealth to “Why the Best Men Do Not Go into Politics.” They lacked a sense of noblesse oblige. The “indifference of the educated and wealthy classes” was due partly, he thought, to the lack of respect in which they were held by the masses. “Since the masses do not look to them for guidance, they do not come forward to give it.”
Without land to hold on to, a hereditary governing class had failed to develop, and the absence of such a class bound by a traditional morality left America open to the unrestricted exploits of the “plungers” and plunderers, the builders and malefactors and profiteers—and through them to the corruption of politics. With the great release and surge of enterprise after the Civil War, America was in a period of unprecedented expansion. The population increased by 50 per cent from fifty million to seventy-five million in the years 1880–1900. With opportunity opening on every hand, government in America through the seventies and eighties functioned chiefly to make the country safe—and lucrative—for the capitalist. Government was a paid agent. Its scandals and deals, becoming blatant, had aroused anger and people were demanding reform. But meanwhile gentlemen did not “stoop to politics,” as Edith Wharton said of New York “Society.” Few of her friends of “the best class” made use of their abilities or rendered the public services they could have. America “wasted this class instead of using it.”
With no role in government and no security from the land, the American rich panicked easily. When the financial crisis of 1893 threatened the loss of John Adams’ fortune, “he went all to pieces,” wrote Henry. “The entire nervous system of Boston seemed to give way and he broke down with a whole crowd of other leading men. I have certainly no reason to think that any of us are stronger than he. My own nerves went to pieces long ago.” Although many of his class were stronger-fibered than Adams, they were a far cry from Lewis Morris, lord of the manor of Morrisania, who, when urged by his brother not to sign the Declaration of Independence because of the consequences to his property, replied, “Damn the consequences, give me the pen!”
Speaker Reed in character, intellect and a kind of brutal independence represented the best that America could put into politics in his time. He was sprung from a rib of that hard northern corner of New England with the uncompromising monosyllabic name. At the time of his birth in 1839 his ancestors had been living in Maine for two hundred years. Through his mother he was descended from a Mayflower passenger and through his father’s mother from George Cleve, who came from England in 1632, built the first white man’s house in Maine and was founder of the Portland Colony and its first Governor. The Reed who married Cleve’s great-great-granddaughter came of a fishing and seafaring family. Never landed in a large sense, nor wealthy, these forbears and their neighbors had striven over the generations to maintain a settlement on the rock-ribbed soil, to survive Indian attack and isolation and snowbound winters. The habit of struggle against odds was bred into Thomas Reed’s blood. His father, captain of a small coastal vessel, had mortgaged his home to send his son to Bowdoin. To maintain himself at college, Reed taught school, walking six miles to and from his lodgings each day. The sons of Portland families went to Bowdoin, not to satisfy social custom, but to gain a serious education. As most of them were situated in circumstances like Reed’s, the semesters were arranged to allow for teaching school in winter. Reed intended himself for the ministry, but sitting up nights on the bed in his attic room reading aloud with a college friend Carlyle’sFrench Revolution, Goethe’s Faust and Werther, Macaulay’s Essays and the novels of Thackeray and Charles Reade, he formed religious convictions that were too individual to submit to a formal creed. After graduating in 1861 he studied law while continuing to teach for $20 a month and “boarding round” in local families.
The Civil War did not engulf him until 1864 when he joined the Navy and saw service of a none too bellicose nature on a Mississippi gunboat. He was commissary officer and would freely admit in later life that he had never been under fire. The usual aura of glory and glitter of gallantry which gradually encrust most wartime memories were no part of Reed’s. “What a charming life that was, that dear old life in the Navy,” he would say when others took to recalling the war, “when I kept grocery on a gunboat. I knew all the regulations and the rest of them didn’t. I had all my rights and most of theirs.” He was to repeat the method and gain the same result in Congress.
When admitted to the bar in Maine in 1865, Reed was a tall, strong young man of twenty-five with a square handsome hard-boned face and thick blond hair. During the next ten years he served as City Counsel for Portland, was elected to the state Legislature and then to the state Senate, was appointed Attorney-General for Maine, married, and grew fat. He had two children, a son who died young and a daughter. His hair thinned until he was almost bald, his figure bellied out until, as he walked down the streets of Portland, he resembled “a human frigate among shallops.” Silent, impassive, with an inward-turned eye, noticing no one, he moved along with the ponderous, gently swaying gait of an elephant. “How narrow he makes the street look!” a passer-by once exclaimed.
In 1876, Reed, now thirty-six, was elected to Congress in place of Blaine, who moved up to the Senate. As a member of the committee formed to investigate the Democrats’ charges of electoral fraud in the Hayes-Tilden election, his cross-examination of witnesses drew spectators for its forensic artistry and made him nationally prominent. In subsequent Congresses he became a member of the all-important Rules Committee and chairman of the Judiciary Committee while session by session perfecting his knowledge of House procedure and parliamentary device.
A body of rules had grown up “calculated better than anything else,” as a colleague said, “to obstruct legislation,” a body as full of “intricacies and secrets” as the armamentarium of a medieval cabalist. Reed mastered it. “In my opinion there never has been a more perfectly equipped leader in any parliamentary body at any period,” said a professional observer, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who had served with him for seven years in the House. Reed not only knew parliamentary practice and law but “understood as few men do the theory and philosophy of the system.” Whether consciously or not, he was preparing for the time when as Speaker he would be able to impress upon the House a sense that no one on the floor could compete with the Chair in command of the rules.
Even with this he could not have imposed his authority if he had not also been “the finest, most effective debater,” in Lodge’s opinion, “that I have ever seen or heard.” He never used an extra word, never stumbled in his syntax, was never at a loss, never forced to retreat or modify a position. He was instant in rejoinder, terse, forcible, lucid. He could state a case unanswerably, illuminate an issue, destroy an argument or expose a fallacy in fewer words than anyone else. His language was vivid and picturesque. “Hardly time to ripen a strawberry,” he said to describe a lapse of two months. He had a way of phrasing things that was peculiarly apt and peculiarly his own. In an argument over which of two fellow members, Berry or Curtis, was the taller, he asked them to stand up and be measured. When Berry uncoiled slowly to his full height, Reed said, “My God, Berry, how much of yourself do you keep in your pockets?” His epigrams were famous. “All the wisdom in the world consists in shouting with the majority” was one. “A statesman is a politician who is dead” was another. He rarely made a gesture when speaking. “When he stood up,” said Lodge, “waiting for an opponent to conclude, filling the narrow aisle, with his hands resting upon the desk, with every trace of expression banished from his face and looking as if he had not an idea and barely heard what was being said, then he was most dangerous.” After one retort which left its victim limply speechless, Reed, looking about him sweetly, remarked, “Having embedded that fly in the liquid amber of my remarks, I will proceed.”
His lucidity and logic were particularly effective under the “five-minute” rule. “Russell,” he said to a Representative from Massachusetts, “you do not understand the theory of five-minute debate. The object is to convey to the House either information or misinformation. You have consumed several periods of five minutes this afternoon without doing either.”
Reed made his point by narrating, not orating. Once when engaged in his favorite sport of baiting the adjoining chamber for which he felt a profound disrespect, he described a Presidential election fifty years in the future when by Constitutional amendment the President would be selected from among and by the Senators. “When the ballots had been collected and spread out, the Chief Justice who presided was observed to hesitate and those nearest could see by his pallor that something unexpected had happened. But with a strong effort he rose to his feet and through a megaphone, then recently invented by Edison, shouted to the vast multitude the astonishing result: seventy-six Senators had each received one vote.”
Discussing economic privilege during a tariff debate he told how, when walking through the streets of New York and contrasting “the brownstone fronts of the rich merchants with the unrewarded virtue of the people on the sidewalk, my gorge rises,… I do not feel kindly to the people inside. But when I feel that way I know what the feeling is. It is good honest high-minded envy. When the gentlemen across the aisle have the same feeling they think it is political economy.”
When word ran down the corridors that Reed was on his feet, about to speak, gossiping groups dissolved, members hurried to their seats, boredom and inattention vanished as the House listened expectantly for the sculptured prose, the prick of sarcasm and the flash of wit. Every member coveted the notoriety of debating with Reed, but he refused to be drawn by the “little fellows,” reserving himself only for those he considered worthy opponents.
Reporters, in the hope of eliciting a witticism, were always asking him for comments on the news of the day. They were not always successful. Asked to comment on a Papal message, he replied, “The overpowering unimportance of this makes me speechless.” Asked what was the greatest problem confronting the American people, he replied, “How to dodge a bicycle.”
After his first term, his nomination as Representative of Maine’s First District was never afterward contested. Elections were another matter and he almost lost the one of 1880 when he refused to compromise or equivocate on free silver despite strong “greenback” sentiment in Maine. He kept his seat on that occasion by only 109 votes. But as his fame grew he generally ran ahead of his ticket in the biennial elections. Even Democrats confessed to “voting for him on the sly.” “He suited the taste of New England,” said Senator Hoar of Massachusetts. “The people liked to hear him on public questions better than any other man not excepting Blaine or McKinley.” The reason was perhaps the same as that given by an Englishman to explain the secret of Palmerston’s popularity: “What the nation likes in Palmerston is his you-be-damnedness!”
Though Reed scorned fence-building and never encouraged familiarity with the public, among intellectual equals “no more agreeable companion ever lived.” In the small world that was then Washington’s elite he was a jovial and radiant personality, a poker-player, storyteller and sought-after dinner guest. At one dinner party when the conversation turned on gambling, another famous raconteur, Senator Choate of New York, remarked somewhat unctuously that he had never made a bet on a horse or card or anything else in his life. “I wish I could say that,” a fellow guest said earnestly. “Why caaan’t you?” asked Reed with his peculiar twang. “Choate did.”
His table talk was enriched by the resources of a cultivated mind. His favorite poets were Burns, Byron and Tennyson, his favorite novel Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. He habitually read Punch, and Balzac in the original, of whom he said, “There is hardly a book of his which is not sad beyond words.” He had learned French after he was forty and kept a diary in that language “for practise.” The existence of a national library is owed to Reed, whose persistent and eloquent insistence finally wore out the natural parsimony of the House to secure adequate funds for the Library of Congress.
“No one was ever better to listen to or a better listener,” said Lodge, “for his sympathies were wide, his interests unlimited and nothing human was alien to him.” “We asked the Tom Reeds to dinner,” wrote a young friend of Lodge from New York, “and he was delightful.” Shortly afterward Reed, an advocate of civil service reform, obtained for the young man a post in Washington on the Civil Service Commission and thereafter, whenever the new Commissioner needed help on the Hill, Reed was ready to give it. Later when the young man from New York bestrode the national scene, Reed composed probably the most memorable tribute ever made to him: “Theodore, if there is one thing more than another for which I admire you, it is your original discovery of the Ten Commandments.” With a little less prescience he had also said, “Theodore will never be President; he has no political background.”
In 1889, however, Theodore Roosevelt proved politically useful to Reed in his intra-party contest against McKinley, Joe Cannon and two others for the Speakership. While ranching and hunting in the Northwest, Roosevelt campaigned vigorously, and with success, to ensure that the four new states which had just entered the Union—Washington, Montana and the two Dakotas—would send Republicans to the next Congress. On his return to Washington he opened personal headquarters in a back room of the old Wormley Hotel where he “rounded up” the new Congressmen’s votes for Reed. Although, to the despair of his supporters, Reed refused to fish for votes with the bait of promised committee appointments, he won nevertheless.
He now occupied the highest electoral office in the gift of his party next to the Presidency. “Ambitious as Lucifer,” in the opinion of Representative Champ Clark, who knew him well, he did not intend to stop there. He was determined, on taking up the gavel as Speaker, to put into effect a plan on which he had long deliberated, consulting no one, and on which he risked his political future. He knew that the fight would focus upon him the nation’s attention and also that if he failed his Congressional career would be over. The stakes were high: he would either break “the tyranny of the minority” by which the House was paralyzed into a state of “helpless inanity,” or he would resign.
The system Speaker Reed had decided to challenge was known as the silent—or disappearing—quorum. It was a practice whereby the minority party could prevent any legislation obnoxious to it by refusing a quorum, that is, by demanding a roll call and then remaining silent when their names were called. Since the rules prescribed that a member’s presence was established only by a viva voce reply to the roll, and since it required a majority of the whole to constitute a quorum, the silent filibuster could effectively stop the House from doing business.
The recent election of 1888 had been a Republican victory in which for the first time in sixteen years one party controlled both Executive and Congress. But by barely a hair. The dour Benjamin Harrison was a minority President who had lost to Cleveland in popular vote and sat on that unstable throne so oddly carpentered by the electoral college system. The Republican majority in the House of 168–160 was wafer-thin, only three more than a quorum, which was set at 165. With this the Republicans faced the task of enacting two major pieces of party legislation, the Mills Bill for revising the tariff and the Force Bill directed against the poll tax and other Southern devices to keep the Negroes from voting. The Democrats were prepared to obstruct this legislation and also to prevent a vote on the seating of four Republicans, two of them Negroes, in contested elections from Southern districts.
To Reed the issue was survival of representative government. If the Democrats could prevent that legislation which the Republicans by virtue of their electoral victory could rightfully expect to enact, they would in effect be setting aside the verdict of the election. The rights of the minority, he believed, were preserved by freedom to debate and to vote but when the minority was able to frustrate action by the majority, “it becomes a tyranny.” He believed that legislation, not merely deliberation, was the business of Congress. The duty of the Speaker to his party and country was to see that that business was accomplished, not merely to umpire debate.
The Speakership was a post of tremendous influence, still possessed of all the powers which in 1910, in the revolt against Joe Cannon, were to be transferred to the committees. Since the Speaker was ex officio Chairman of the Committee on Rules, whose two Republican and two Democratic members canceled each other out, and since he had the right to appoint all committees, the careers of members and the course of legislation depended upon his will. In Reed’s hands was now the “power with responsibility,” and notwithstanding a famous dictum, power has other effects than only to corrupt: it can also enlarge the understanding. It sometimes begets greatness. The Speaker’s office, which the Washington Post called “no less consequential than the Presidency,” could be the stepping stone to that ultimate peak. Reed was not the man either to miss his opportunity or to meet it feebly.
He reached his decision to attack the silent quorum, and planned his campaign, alone, partly because no one else would have thought there was a chance of success and partly because he was not sure that even his own party would support him. There were indications that they might not. Because of Reed’s known views on the silent filibuster it was clear that quorum-counting would be an issue in the new Congress. REED WILL COUNT THEM, predicted a headline in the Washington Post, and the story beneath it said that even Mr. Cannon, Reed’s closest lieutenant, was opposed to the attempt. The Democrats were manning their defences. Ex-Speaker Carlisle let it be known that any legislation enacted by a quorum which had not been established by a “recorded vote” would be taken to court as unconstitutional.
Reed, however, had satisfied himself that he would be upheld if it came to law, and on the attitude of his own party he was prepared to gamble. He shrewdly judged that the Democrats in their rage would provoke the Republicans to rally to his support. When the first of the contested elections appeared on the schedule for January 29 he was ready. As expected, the Democrats raised a cry of no quorum and demanded a roll call. It produced 163 yeas, all Republican, two less than a quorum. Reed’s moment had come. Without a flicker of expression on the great white moon face, “the largest human face I ever saw,” as a colleague described it, without any quickening of the drawling voice, he announced, “The Chair directs the Clerk to record the names of the following members present and refusing to vote,” and began reading off the names himself. Instantly, according to a reporter, “pandemonium broke loose. The storm was furious … and it is to be doubted if ever there was such wild excitement, burning indignation, scathing denunciation and really dangerous conditions as existed in the House” during the next five days. Republicans were wildly applauding, all the Democrats were “yelling and shrieking and pounding their desks” while the voice of their future Speaker, Crisp of Georgia, boomed, “I appeal! I appeal from the decision of the Chair!” The explosion was “as violent as was ever witnessed in any parliament,” a member recalled later. Unruffled, expressionless, the Speaker continued his counting, “Mr. Blanchard, Mr. Bland, Mr. Blount, Mr. Breckinridge of Arkansas, Mr. Breckinridge of Kentucky …”
Up jumped the Kentuckian, “famous for his silver hair and silver tongue.” “I deny the power of the Speaker and denounce it as revolutionary!” he called.
The resonant twang from the Chair continued unregarding, “Mr. Bullock, Mr. Bynum, Mr. Carlisle, Mr. Chipman, Mr. Clement, Mr. Covert, Mr. Crisp, Mr. Cummings”—through hisses and catcalls and cries of “Appeal!” irresistibly rolling down the alphabet—“Mr. Lawler, Mr. Lee, Mr. McAdoo, Mr. McCreary …”
“I deny your right, Mr. Speaker, to count me as present!” bellowed McCreary.
For the first time the Speaker stopped, held the hall in silence for a pause as an actor holds an audience, then blandly spoke: “The Chair is making a statement of fact that the gentleman is present. Does he deny it?”
He went on with his count, unmoved by the protests, denials, cries of “Order!” that rose to bedlam, through the S’s and T’s to the end. Then suddenly, seeming to gather all the power of his huge body, projecting all the force of his commanding personality and raising the voice which could fill any hall when he wanted, he announced, “The Chair thereupon rules that there is a quorum present within the meaning of the Constitution.”
Tumult even worse than before followed. Breckinridge of Kentucky demanded a point of order on the ground that the Chair had no right to make such a ruling. “The Chair overrules the point of order,” declared Reed coolly.
“I appeal the decision of the Chair!” shouted Breckinridge.
“I move to lay the appeal on the table,” quickly interposed an alert Republican, Payson of Illinois. As this motion, if carried, would have shut off debate, the Democrats foamed with rage. A hundred of them “were on their feet howling for recognition,” wrote a reporter. “Fighting Joe” Wheeler, the diminutive former Confederate cavalry general, unable to reach the front because of the crowded aisles, came down from the rear “leaping from desk to desk as an ibex leaps from crag to crag.” As the excitement grew wilder, the only Democrat not on his feet was a huge Representative from Texas who sat in his seat significantly whetting a bowie knife on his boot. When a Republican member said he believed “we should have debate” on such an important matter, Reed allowed it. The debate was to last four days with the Democrats fighting every inch of the way, insisting on readings of every word of the Journal, on appeals and points of order and roll calls, each of which Were met by Reed imperturbably counting off the silent members as present and evoking each time further infuriated defiance. Once Representative McKinley, striving to please as usual, inadvertently yielded the floor, and had to be prompted by Reed, “The gentleman from Ohio declines to be interrupted.”
“I decline to be interrupted,” echoed McKinley valiantly closing the breach.
As implacably at each juncture Reed counted heads and repeated his formula, “A Constitutional quorum is present to do business,” the fury and frustration of the Democrats mounted. A group breathing maledictions advanced down the aisle threatening to pull him from the Chair and for a moment it looked to a spectator “as if they intended to mob the Speaker.” Reed remained unmoved. Infected by the passion on the floor, visitors and correspondents in the galleries leaned over the railings to shake their fists at the Speaker and join in the abuse and profanity. “Decorum,” lamented a reporter, “was altogether forgotten. Members rushed madly about the floor, the scowl of battle upon their brows,… shouting in a mad torrent of eloquent invective.” They called Reed tyrant, despot and dictator, hurling epithets like stones. Among all the variants on the word “tyrant,” “czar” emerged as the favorite, embodying for its time the image of unrestrained autocracy, and as “Czar” Reed, the Speaker was known thereafter. The angrier the Democrats became, the cooler Reed remained, bulking hugely in the chair, “serene as a summer morning.” Although his secretary saw him in his private room, during an interval, gripping the desk and shaking with suppressed rage, he never gave a sign in the hall to show that the vicious abuse touched him. He maintained an iron control, “cool and determined as a highwayman,” said the New York Times.
The secret of his self-possession, as he told a friend long afterward, was that he had his mind absolutely made up as to what he would do if the House did not sustain him. “I would simply have left the Chair and resigned the Speakership and my seat in Congress.” He had a place waiting for him for the private practice of law in Elihu Root’s New York firm, and “I had made up my mind that if political life consisted in sitting helplessly in the Speaker’s Chair and seeing the majority helpless to pass legislation, I had had enough of it and was ready to step down and out.” Coming to such a decision, he said, “you have made yourself equal to the worst” and are ready for it. This has a very “soothing” effect on the spirit.
It did more than soothe: it gave him an embedded strength which men who fear the worst, or will yield principles to avoid the worst, can never possess. It endowed him with a moral superiority over the House which members without knowing why could sense in the atmosphere.
Now the Democrats, changing their strategy, decided to absent themselves in actuality, counting on the inability of the Republicans to round up a quorum of themselves alone. As one by one the Democrats slipped out, Reed, divining their intention, ordered the doors locked. At once there followed a mad scramble to get out before the next vote. Losing “all sense of personal or official dignity,” Democrats hid under desks and behind screens. Representative Kilgore of Texas, kicking open a locked door to make his escape, made “Kilgore’s Kick” the delight of cartoonists.
On the fifth day, the Democrats absented themselves altogether and when a vote was called the Republicans were still short of a quorum. Two of their number were brought in on cots from their sickbeds. There was still one too few. One member was known to be on his way to Washington. Suddenly a door opened, and, as a reporter told it, “there was a flash of red whiskers and a voice saying, ‘One more, Mr. Speaker.’ ” Sweney of Iowa was counted in, the quorum was filled, and the vote recorded at 166–0. The battle was over. Democrats sullenly filed back to their seats. The Rules Committee reported out a new set of rules, composed, needless to say, and imposed by the Chairman. Known thereafter as “Reed’s Rules” and adopted on February 14, they provided among other things that (1) all members must vote; (2) one hundred shall constitute a quorum; (3) all present shall be counted; and (4) no dilatory motion shall be entertained and the definition of what is dilatory to be left to the judgment of the Speaker.
Five years later Theodore Roosevelt wrote that in destroying the silent filibuster, Reed’s reform was of “far greater permanent importance” than any piece of legislation it brought to enactment at the time. Reed knew this as soon as he had won. In his speech closing the Fifty-first Congress he said that “the verdict of history” was the only one worth recording and he was confident of its outcome “because we have taken here so long a stride in the direction of responsible government.”
More immediate than a verdict by history, and, indeed, then widely considered its equivalent, was a portrait by Sargent. Commissioned as a tribute to the Speaker by his Republican colleagues, it was a memorable failure. “He is supposed to be in the act of counting a quorum,” a critic observed, “but in fact has just been inveigled into biting a green persimmon.”
The death of the silent quorum was discussed in parliamentary bodies all over the world. At home it made Reed a leading political figure and obvious candidate for the Presidential nomination in 1892. But his time had not yet come, as he correctly judged, for when asked if he thought his party would nominate him, he replied, “They might do worse and I think they will.”
They did. Reed’s “czardom” was still resented and his sarcasm had not made friends. Nor did his disgust for deals, his refusal to woo the public with smiles and handshakes, or politicians with promises, enlarge his circle of supporters. The party regulars preferred to nominate the incumbent Harrison, incorruptible but sour, known as the “White House Iceberg,” whom Reed disliked with no concealment whatever. When Harrison appointed as Collector of Portland, Reed’s home town, a man Reed despised, he thereafter refused to enter the White House or meet Harrison until the day he died.
When, in 1892, the Democrats won control of the House by so large a majority that they could always assemble a quorum among themselves, they triumphantly threw out Reed’s reform. He waited for history, not without some faith, as he used to say, that “the House has more sense than anyone in it.” History did not keep him waiting long. In the next Congress, with the Democratic majority reduced by half and split over the currency and other heated issues, Reed enjoyed a delicious revenge. Over and over he demanded roll calls and when Bland of Missouri stormed against this “downright filibuster,” he countered instantly, “Downright? You mean upright.” His control over his party, as minority leader no less than as Speaker, remained total. “Gentlemen on that side blindly follow him,” Speaker Crisp said wistfully. “You will hear them privately saying, ‘Reed ought not to do that,’ or ‘This is wrong,’ but when Reed says ‘Do it,’ they all step up and do it.” When at last the Democrats had to give way, and for the sake of their own program, re-adopt his quorum-counting rule, Reed refrained from crowing. “This scene here today is a more effective address than any I could make,” he said. “I congratulate the Fifty-third Congress.”
In 1890, when the last armed conflict between Indians and whites in the United States took place at Wounded Knee Creek and the Census Bureau declared there was no longer a land frontier, a further test was shaping for Reed. In that year Captain A. T. Mahan, president of the Naval War College, announced in the Atlantic Monthly, “Whether they will or no, Americans must now begin to look outward.”
A quiet, tight-lipped naval officer with one of the most forceful minds of his time, Alfred Thayer Mahan had selected himself to fill the country’s need of “a voice to speak constantly of our external interests.” Few Americans were aware that the United States had external interests and a large number believed she ought not to have them. The immediate issue was annexation of Hawaii. A naval coaling base at Pearl Harbor had been acquired in 1887, but the main impulse for annexation of the Islands came from American property interests there which were dominated by Judge Dole and the sugar trust. With the support of the United States Marines they engineered a revolt against the native Hawaiian government in January, 1893; Judge Dole became President Dole and promptly negotiated a treaty of annexation with the American Minister which President Harrison hurriedly sent to the Senate in February. Having been defeated for re-election by former President Cleveland, who was due to be inaugurated on March 4, Harrison asked for immediate action by the Senate in the hope of obtaining ratification before the new President could take office. The procedure was too raw and the Senate balked.
Opposed to expansion in any form, Cleveland was a man of integrity, as well as shape, similar to Reed’s. Once, when mistaken for Cleveland in an ill-lit room, Reed said, “Mercy! Don’t tell Grover. He is too proud of his good looks already.” Before he had been in office a week, Cleveland recalled the treaty of annexation from the Senate, much to the distress of Reed’s young friend, Roosevelt, who felt “very strongly” about “hauling down the flag,” as he called it.
The motive of the annexationists had been economic self-interest. It took Mahan to transform the issue into one of national and fateful importance. In the same March that Cleveland recalled the treaty, Mahan published an article in the Forum entitled “Hawaii and Our Future Sea Power,” in which he declared that command of the seas was the chief element in the power and prosperity of nations and it was therefore “imperative to take possession, when it can righteously be done, of such maritime positions as contribute to secure command.” Hawaii “fixes the attention of the strategist”; it occupies a position of “unique importance … powerfully influencing the commercial and military control of the Pacific.” In another article published by the Atlantic Monthly in the same month, Mahan argued the imperative need, for the future of American sea power, of the proposed Isthmian Canal.
Captain Mahan’s pronouncements were somehow couched in tones of such authority, as much a product of character as of style, as to make everything he wrote appear indisputable. He was already the author of The Influence of Sea Power on History, given originally as lectures at the Naval War College in 1887 and published as a book in 1890. Its effect on the naval profession abroad, if not at home, was immediate and tremendous, and even at home, although it had taken three years to find a publisher, it excited the attention of various thoughtful persons concerned with national policy. Theodore Roosevelt, who as the author at twenty-four of a book on The Naval War of 1812 had been invited to speak at the Naval War College, heard and became a disciple of Mahan. WhenThe Influence of Sea Power on History was published he read it “straight through” and wrote to Mahan that he was convinced it would become “a naval classic.” Walter Hines Page of the Forum and Horace E. Scudder of the Atlantic Monthly, editors in the days when magazines were vital arenas of opinion, regularly gave Mahan space. Harvard and Yale conferred LL.D.’s. Nor were all his professional colleagues traditionalists opposed to things new. His predecessor at the Naval War College, Admiral Stephen Luce, who had selected Mahan to succeed him when Luce himself was named to command the North Atlantic Squadron, brought his squadron to Newport so that his officers could hear the lectures of this new man who, Luce predicted, would do for naval science what Jomini in the days of Napoleon had done for military science. After the first lecture, Luce stood up and proclaimed, “He is here and his name is Mahan!”
What Mahan had discovered was the controlling factor of sea power; that whoever is master of the seas is master of the situation. Like M. Jourdain who spoke prose all his life without knowing it, it was a truth that had been operative for a long time without any of its operators being consciously aware of it, and Mahan’s formulation was stunning. His first book was followed and confirmed by a second, The Influence of Sea Power on the French Revolution, published in 1892. The original idea had come to him “from within” when, on reading Mommsen’s History of Rome, “it struck me how different things might have been could Hannibal have invaded Italy by sea … or could he, after arrival, have been in free communication with Carthage by water.” All at once Mahan realized that “control of the sea was an historic factor which had never been systematically appreciated and expounded.” It was “one of those perceptions that turn inward darkness into light.” For months, while on leave in 1885, before taking up his duties at the War College, he read at the Astor Place branch of the New York Public Library, following his clue through history in mounting excitement and with every faculty “alive and jumping.”
In the United States the building of navies with more than coastal defence capacity was traditionally regarded as a sacrilege against the original idea of America as a nation which could live without aggression and demonstrate a new future to the world. In Europe the nations who had exercised power upon the seas for centuries were suddenly made aware by Mahan of what they had. A commentator signed “Nauticus” remarked that sea power, like oxygen, had influenced the world through the ages, but just as the nature and power of oxygen remained unrealized until Priestley, “so might sea power but for Mahan.”
Ordered to command the flagship of the European Station in 1893 (much against his will, for he would have preferred to stay at home and continue writing), Mahan was received in England with unprecedented honors. He was invited by the Queen to a state dinner at Osborne, dined with the Prince of Wales and was the first foreigner ever to be entertained by the Royal Yacht Club, which gave a dinner in his honor with a hundred guests, all admirals and captains. In London, John Hay, who was visiting there, wrote to him that “all the people of intelligence are waiting to welcome you.” Lord Rosebery, then Prime Minister, invited him to a private dinner with just himself and John Morley at which they talked until midnight. He met Balfour and Asquith, visited Lord Salisbury at Hatfield, and dined again with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Wearing a red academic robe over his dress uniform and sword, he received a D.C.L. from Oxford and an LL.D. from Cambridge, said to be the only man ever to receive degrees from both universities in the same week.
After a temporary escape to the Continent, where, equipped with guidebook, umbrella and binoculars, he traced Hannibal’s marches, he was seized upon by his most enthusiastic disciple, Wilhelm II, who invited him to dinner aboard his yacht, the Hohenzollern, during Cowes Week. With effect that was to be epochal on world history, The Influence of Sea Power on History had planted in the Kaiser the idea that Germany’s future was on the sea. By his order, a copy of Mahan’s book was placed on every ship in the. German Navy and the Kaiser’s personal copies in English and German were heavily underlined and bristling with marginal comments and exclamation marks. “I am just now not reading but devouring Captain Mahan’s book and am trying to learn it by heart,” he informed a friend by telegram in 1894, when Mahan was in Europe. “It is a first class book and classical in all points. It is on board all my ships and constantly quoted by my Captains and officers.” The Japanese were no less interested. The Influence of Sea Power on Historywas adopted as a text in Japanese military and naval colleges and all Mahan’s subsequent books were translated into Japanese.
The obvious corollary of Mahan’s thesis was the peremptory need to develop the American Navy, at that time moribund from neglect. As Cleveland’s Secretary of the Navy, William C. White, said in 1887, it did not have the strength to fight nor the speed to run away, and in Mahan’s judgment it was not a match for Chile’s Navy, much less Spain’s. In 1880, when serious discussion began of an Isthmian Canal, which in the absence of adequate naval power would constitute more of a danger than an asset, he had written, “We must without delay begin to build a navy which will at least equal that of England when the Canal shall have become a fact. That this will be done I don’t for a moment hope but unless it is we may as well shut up about the Monroe Doctrine at once.”
From then on he continually badgered friends, colleagues and correspondents on this theme. His passion was for naval power, not for ships, as such, for he did not enjoy sea duty and looked nothing at all like a sailor. Well over six feet tall, wiry, thin and erect, he had a long, narrow face with narrowly placed pale-blue eyes, a long, straight, knifelike nose, a sandy moustache blending into a closely trimmed beard over an insignificant chin. All the power of the face was in the upper part, in the eyes and domed skull and the intellectual bumps over the eyebrows. Born the year after Reed, he was fifty in 1890, and though exceptionally reserved and retiring, he was capable, according to his wife, of sudden roars in “his quarter deck voice.” His brother called him Alf. He had little sense of humor, a high moral tone and shared the respectable man’s horror of Zola’s novels, which he forbade his daughters to read. So precise were his scruples that when living on naval property at the War College he would not allow his children to use the government pencils.
His friends and acquaintances were few and his social life, except on the occasion of his tour of duty abroad, virtually nonexistent. External expression of his personality was limited; his life was inner. He was like a steam kettle in which the boiling goes on within an enclosed space and the steam comes out through a single spout. Like Reed he was intensely clear-thinking and definitive in his conclusions. Apropos of a trip ashore at Aden, where he visited a colony of Jews, he wrote, “I am without anti-Semitic feeling. That Jesus Christ was a Jew covers his race for me.” In a total of sixteen words he settled to his own satisfaction a problem that had harassed mankind for nineteen centuries and had reopened in his own days full of new trouble and malignance. Samuel Ashe, his lifelong friend since they had been classmates at Annapolis, said, “He was the most intellectual man I have ever known.”
In 1890 the Navy at last began to build. On the recommendation of the Policy Board appointed by Harrison’s Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Tracy, Congress reluctantly and not without strong objections from inside and out authorized three battleships, theOregon, Indiana and Massachusetts, and a fourth, the Iowa, two years later. They were the first fruits of Mahan’s long campaign. The policy which these ships expressed, though far from being generally accepted at once, represented a fundamental change in the direction in which Mahan was pointing: outward. They meant recognition that America must create a fleet capable of meeting successfully the best that a potential enemy could send against her. Canada was regarded as a hostage to restrain Britain, and the political balance in Europe was considered likely to prevent any potential European enemy from sending its full fleet into American waters. The object was therefore to be supreme in these waters and this meant a fleet capable of protecting the American coasts by taking offensive action against enemy bases anywhere from Newfoundland to the Caribbean. Such was to be the function of the new battleships. They were of the 10,000-ton class, with an average speed of fifteen knots, a coal capacity sufficient for a cruising radius of 5,000 miles at moderate speed, four 13-inch guns, and eight 8-inch guns. In combination of armor and firepower they represented the best in design and construction of the time. At their trials, the Indiana in 1895 followed by the Iowa in 1896 soberly impressed the British as a match for Britain’s first-line ships, of which the latest of the “Majestic” class were 15,000 tons with four 12-inch and twelve 6-inch guns.
The ships lent heart to Mahan’s disciples. Roosevelt, still on the Civil Service Commission, was not yet widely heard, but his friend and political mentor, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, was the principal political voice in Washington of Mahan’s views. Son of a family whose fortune had been made in clipper ships and the China trade, author of various biographies and histories of the Colonial period, Lodge was led into political life through his deep interest in American history. His grandfather and namesake, Henry Cabot, could remember as a boy hiding under the sideboard to watch President George Washington at breakfast in his father’s home. Elected to the House in 1886, Lodge made an immediate impression by his frequent and able speeches and proved himself an adroit master of political strategy and tactics. He was shrewd, worldly, forceful and possessed of both energy and intelligence. Along with Roosevelt he was a champion of civil service reform and an inner member of the select group which gathered around the two non-participants, John Hay and Henry Adams, who watched government half wistfully, half cynically from the ringside. Representing the party in opposition, Lodge and Roosevelt had no influence on Cleveland; but they believed and they preached with fervor.
“It is sea power which is essential to every splendid people,” Lodge declaimed in the Senate on March 2, 1895. He had a map of the Pacific set up with Britain’s bases marked by very visible red crosses and he used a pointer as he talked to make Mahan’s point about the vital position of Hawaii. The effect was dramatic and reinforced by the speaker being, as he wrote to his mother, “in desperate earnest.” Hawaii must be acquired and the Canal built. “We are a great people; we control this continent; we are dominant in this hemisphere; we have too great an inheritance to be trifled with or parted with. It is ours to guard and extend.” As he spoke, Senators came in from the cloakrooms, members of the other House appeared, and also messengers and journalists, until soon the chamber was filled and men were standing around the walls. Lodge could feel he had their “absolute attention.… When I sat down everybody crowded around to shake my hand … which hardly ever happens in the Senate.” In an accompanying article that month in theForum, Lodge stated flatly that once the Canal was built, “the island of Cuba will become a necessity” to the United States. He did not say how the necessity was to be made good; whether the United States was to buy the island from Spain or simply take it. He offered the opinion, however, that small states belonged to the past and that expansion was a movement that made for “civilization and the advancement of the race.”
At this juncture History lent a hand. On February 24, 1895, the Cuban people rose in insurrection against Spanish rule and on March 8 a Spanish gunboat chased and fired on an American merchant vessel, the Alliance, which it supposed to be bent on a filibustering errand. This “insult to our flag,” as it was called, evoked a burst of comments from prominent members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which showed that Lodge had not been speaking only for himself. The American appetite for new territory was making itself felt. Senator Morgan of Alabama, Democratic chairman of the Committee, said the solution was clear: “Cuba should become an American colony.” Reed’s colleague but not his friend, Senator Frye of Maine, agreed that “we certainly ought to have the island in order to round out our possessions” and added with simple candor, “If we cannot buy it, I for one, should like an opportunity to acquire it by conquest.” Another Republican, Senator Cullom of Illinois, expressed even more plainly what was moving inside the American people. “It is time some one woke up,” he said, “and realized the necessity of annexing some property—we want all this northern hemisphere.” It was not, in 1895, necessary to disguise aggressiveness as something else. As yet the Senators were not talking in terms of support for Cubans rightly struggling to be free, because the insurrectos, who were burning American property as enthusiastically as Spanish, had not yet been presented in that light.
With President Cleveland standing robustly against expansion, the exuberant greed of certain Senators had little effect on policy. It was an act by Cleveland himself, at the end of the year, that brought into open explosion the new American mood. His emphatic assertion of the Monroe Doctrine over Venezuela, in defiance of Britain, marked the beginning of a new period in American life as vividly as if a signal flag had been run up to the top of the American flagpole. No question of gain, territorial or otherwise, was involved in Venezuela; it was simply a question of asserting an American right, as it seemed to Cleveland and especially to his exceedingly assertive Secretary of State, Richard Olney. The burst of chauvinism, jingoism and general bellicosity that it touched off startled everyone, though it came less from the common man than from the rich and powerful and vocal. The Union League Club had 1,600 members, proclaimed one of them, and “we are 1,600 to a man behind Mr. Cleveland in this matter.… There is absolutely not one dissenting voice.” Congratulations from other Republicans, stung to admiration, poured in upon the White House, including one from Theodore Roosevelt. The New York Times exaggerated matters in headlines which had no relation to the reports beneath them. PREPARATIONS FOR WAR and COUNTRY IS AROUSED, they ran, or, WANT TO FIGHT ENGLAND: Army and Navy Men Profess Great Eagerness to Go to War. Talk of Invasion of Canada. The Army bureau chief who was quoted, far from talking about invading Canada, gave a careful and sober statement of American naval and military inadequacies and stated his belief that America would “make a sorry spectacle at war with England.”
The surge of militancy evoked by the Venezuela Message shocked people who still thought of the United States in the terms of its founders, as a nation opposed to militarism, conquest, standing armies and all the other bad habits associated with the monarchies of the old world. This tradition was strongest in New England, and was stronger among the older generation—roughly those who were over fifty in 1890—than among the new. They were closer to Jefferson, who had said, “If there is one principle more deeply rooted in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.” They took seriously the Declaration of Independence and its principle of just power deriving from the consent of the governed. They regarded the extension of American rule over foreign soil and foreign peoples as a violation of this principle and a desecration of the American purpose. The original American democracy was to them a torch, an ideal, an example of a brave new world that had set its face against the old. They wanted nothing to do with titles of rank and nobility, knee breeches, orders or any of the other insidious trappings of monarchy, and when in the Navy the title of Admiral was first proposed, an officer fumed, “Call them Admirals? Never! They will be wanting to be Dukes next.”
First-generation immigrants who had come to the United States beckoned by the American dream were as deeply devoted to the founding principles as those in whom they had been bred for generations. Some came out of the balked revolution of 1848, seeking Liberty, like Altgeld’s father and like Carl Schurz, now sixty-six, who as journalist, editor, Cabinet minister and Senator had been a power and reformer ever since Lincoln’s Administration. Some came to escape oppression or poverty and to seek opportunity, like the Scottish weaver who arrived in 1848 with his twelve-year-old son, Andrew Carnegie, or like the Dutch-Jewish cigarmaker who came from a London slum in 1863 with his thirteen-year-old son, Samuel Gompers. Some came, like E. L. Godkin, editor of theNation and the New York Evening Post, not as a refugee from oppression, but as a voluntary exile from the old world, lured by America as a living demonstration of the democratic ideal. To them, as to men whose ancestors had come in the 1630’s, America was a new principle, and they saw the new militancy as its betrayal.
Godkin, filled with “anxiety about the country,” determined to oppose the Venezuela Message even if he should jeopardize his paper with the “half-crazed public.” Son of an English family settled since the Twelfth Century in Ireland, where he had been born and brought up, he had served as correspondent for English papers during the Crimean War and the American Civil War. He became editor of the Nation when it was founded in 1865 by a group of forty stockholders who supplied $100,000 with the stated purpose of championing the labouring class, the Negro, the cause of popular education and “true democratic principles in society and government.” In 1883, while remaining at the Nation, he succeeded Carl Schurz as editor of the Evening Post and through the medium of these two organs made himself, as William James said, “a towering influence on all thought concerning public affairs.”
He was a handsome, bearded, hot-tempered Celt, delighting in combat, brooding in melancholy, vivacious, pugnacious and a muckraker before Roosevelt invented the name. So unrelenting was his pursuit of corrupt practices by Tammany politicians that on one occasion they had him arrested for criminal libel three times in one day. James Russell Lowell agreed with the opinion of an English journalist that Godkin had made the Nation “the best periodical in the world,” and James Bryce, already famous as the author ofThe American Commonwealth, declared the Evening Post to be “the best paper printed in the English language.” Closer to home, opinion was hotter. Governor Hill of New York said he did not care about “the handful of mugwumps” who read the Evening Postin New York City. “The trouble with the damned sheet is that every editor in New York State reads it.” This was what accounted for Godkin’s pervasive influence; that other makers of opinion took their opinions from him—though not, to be sure, all. “What fearful mental degeneracy results from reading it or the Nation as a steady thing,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt to Captain Mahan in 1893.
In 1895 Godkin was sixty-four and feared the future. The United States, he wrote to a friend, “finds itself in possession of enormous power and is eager to use it in brutal fashion against anyone who comes along without knowing how to do so and is therefore constantly on the brink of some frightful catastrophe.” Indeed, as the United States had at this moment exactly one battleship in commission, Godkin was not unwarranted in thinking the Jingoes “absolutely crazy.” He believed the new spirit of “ferocious optimism,” as he strikingly described it, would lead to eventual disaster.
William James, Professor of Philosophy at Harvard, was equally disquieted. “It is instructive to find,” he wrote apropos of Venezuela, “how near the surface in all of us the old fighting spirit lies and how slight an appeal will wake it up. Once really waked, there is no retreat.” His colleague at Harvard, Charles Eliot Norton, Professor of Fine Arts, who was regarded as the exponent and arbiter of culture in American life, protested the war spirit at a meeting in the Shepard Memorial Church in Cambridge. “The shout of brutal applause, which has gone up from every part of this nation,” he said, makes every rational lover of his country feel the “greatest apprehension” for the future.
The white-haired, slender, stoop-shouldered figure, the husky yet musical voice speaking in its Boston Brahmin accent, the charm of that “supremely urbane and gentle presence” was never so at home as when against the herd. Born in 1827, only a year after Jefferson and John Adams died, Norton represented the puritan and militantly liberal conscience of an older generation. He was the son of Andrews Norton, “Unitarian Pope” of New England and Professor of Sacred Literature at Harvard, who had married Catherine Eliot, daughter of a wealthy Boston merchant, and was himself descended through a long line of ministers from John Norton, a Puritan divine who had emigrated to America in 1635.
Like Lord Salisbury, Norton believed in the dominance of an aristocratic class, which to him meant a class founded, not in landowning, but in a common background of culture, refinement, learning and manners. He saw it disappearing and protested regularly against encroaching vulgarity in his lectures. In parody of his manner a student said, “I propose this afternoon to make a few remarks on the hor-ri-ble vul-gar-ity of EVERYTHING.” Another of his students at Radcliffe, in her diary for 1895, described him looking “so mildly happy and benignant … while he gently tells us it were better for us had we never been born in this degenerate and unhappy age.” Norton became one of the first contributors to the Atlantic Monthly when it was founded by James Russell Lowell in 1857, later co-editor with Lowell of the North American Review, and was one of the forty stockholders who founded the Nation.
Writing to Godkin about the Venezuela Message, Norton thought it made “a miserable end for this century” and had done much to increase the “worst spirit in our democracy,… a barbaric spirit of arrogance and unreasonable self-assertion.” What disturbed him more bitterly was the “deeper consideration” that the rise of democracy was not proving, after all, “a safeguard of peace and civilization,” because it brought with it “the rise of the uncivilized whom no school education can suffice to provide with intelligence and reason.” It might have been Lord Salisbury speaking. Norton felt the bitterness of a man who discovers his beloved to be not as beautiful—nor as pure—as he had believed. “I fear that America,” he wrote to an English friend, “is beginning a long course of error and wrong and is likely to become more and more a power for disturbance and barbarism.… It looks as if the world were entering on a new stage of experience in which there must be a new discipline of suffering to fit men for the new conditions.”
Yet his was not the desiccated and disappointed pessimism of Henry Adams, who drifted in and out of Washington and back and forth between Europe and America croaking his endless complaints like a wizened black crow; finding the century “rotten and bankrupt,” society sunk in vulgarity, commonness, imbecility and moral atrophy, himself on the verge of “mental extinction” and “dying of ennui”; finding America unbearable and leaving for Europe, finding Europe insufferable and returning to America, finding “decline is everywhere” and everywhere “the dead water of the fin de siècle … where not a breath stirred the idle air of education or fretted the mental torpor of self-content.” The Venezuelan crisis merely confirmed him in the belief that “society today is more rotten than at any time within my personal knowledge. The whole thing is one vast structure of debt and fraud.” This was less a judgment on the current mood than a reflection of the rude shaking his nerves had suffered in the financial panic of 1893. Adams, like most people, saw society in his own image and ascribed his own impotence and paralysis to society at large. “Though rotten with decadence,” he said of himself in 1895, “I have not enough vitality left to be sensual.” The rotten old century, however, was bursting with vitality and he need only have looked at intimates of his own circle in the persons of Lodge and Roosevelt to have found the “ferocious optimism” that Godkin noted all around.
Although a decade older than Adams, Norton would allow himself occasional moments of optimism when he suspected that the loss of the values he loved might be the cost of a compensating gain in human welfare. “There are far more human beings materially well off today than ever before in the history of the world,” he wrote in 1896, and he could not resist the thought, “How interesting our times have been and still are!”
The last few years had indeed been full of incident. Cleveland, for all his good will, was beset by hard times. Industrial unrest gripped the nation. Depression followed the panic of 1893. In 1894 Coxey’s Army of the unemployed marched on Washington, and the bloody Pullman strike angered and frightened both sides in the deepening warfare of labour and capital. In the Congressional elections that November, the Republicans regained the House with a huge majority of 140 (244–104), and when in December, 1895, the new Fifty-fourth Congress assembled, the familiar great black figure with the great white face was again enthroned in the Speaker’s Chair.
Reed was now at the zenith of his power. The dangerous battle of his first term was long past and the guerrilla warfare of two terms as minority leader over, leaving him with unlimited control. “He commands everything by the brutality of his intellect,” said a member. His well-drilled ranks, though occasionally, and as time went on, increasingly, restive, could not break the habit of obedience. When the Speaker waved his hands upward members would stand as one man, and if by chance they rose to claim the floor when he wished them silent, a downward wave made them subside into their seats. “He had more perfect control over the House than any other Speaker,” wrote Senator Cullom of Illinois.
Stern on dignity and decorum, he permitted no smoking or shirtsleeves and even challenged the cherished privilege of feet on desk. A member with particularly visible white socks who so far forgot himself as to resume that comfortable posture, received a message from the Chair, “The Czar commands you to haul down those flags of truce.”
With no favorites and no near rivals, he ruled alone. Careful not to excite jealousy, he avoided even walking in public with a member. Solitary, the stupendous figure ambled each morning from the old Shoreham Hotel (then on Fifteenth and H Streets), where he lived, to the Hill, barely nodding to greetings and unconscious of strangers who turned to stare at him in the street.
He had a kind of “tranquil greatness,” said a colleague, which evolved from a philosophy of his own and left him “undisturbed by the ordinary worries and anxieties of life.” Reed gave a clue to it one night when a friend came to discuss politics and found him reading Sir Richard Burton’s Kasidah, from which he read aloud the lines:
Do what thy manhood bids thee do,
from none but self expect applause,
He noblest lives and noblest dies
who makes and keeps his self-made laws.
Secure in his self-made laws, Reed could not be flustered. Once a Democratic member, overruled by Reed on a point of order, remembered that the Speaker had taken a different position in his manual, Reed’s Rules. Hurriedly, he sent for the book, leafed through its pages, pounced on the relevant passage and marched to the rostrum in anticipatory triumph to lay it before the Speaker. Reed read it attentively, cast a glance down at the man from his glowing hazel eyes and said with finality, “Oh, the book is wrong.”
During the Venezuela crisis he said little publicly, kept the Republicans in the House under firm control and trusted to Cleveland’s basic antipathy for foreign adventure, which he shared, to withstand the Jingoes’ eagerness to annex this and that. Reed was unalterably opposed to expansion and all it implied. He believed that American greatness lay at home and was to be achieved by improving living conditions and raising political intelligence among Americans rather than by extending American rule over half-civilized peoples difficult to assimilate. To him the Republican party was the guardian of this principle and expansion was “a policy no Republican ought to excuse much less adopt.”
The year 1896 was a Presidential one and Reed wanted the nomination. With the Democrats torn by their discords, chances of a Republican victory looked favorable and the nomination was a prize worth fighting for. “He is in excellent health and spirits,” reported Roosevelt, and “thinks the drift is his way.” Appearing with his moustache shaved off, Reed seemed to one reporter to feel the “necessity of taking himself seriously,” which tended to muffle his wit. As a contender for the nomination his position was complicated by the fact that the most vigorous campaigners on his behalf were Lodge and Roosevelt, whose views on expansion were fundamentally opposed to his own, although this had not yet become a touchstone. “My whole heart is in the Reed canvass,” said Roosevelt.
Reed would not go out of his way to build up support for himself by the usual methods. When members demanded private appropriation bills for their districts without which they feared they would be unable to cultivate sentiment for his nomination, he was unmoved. “Your bill will not be allowed to come up even with that Reed button in your coat,” he said to one member. When the railroad magnate, Collis P. Huntington, of the Southern Pacific, three times asked to see Reed’s campaign manager, Representative F. J. Aldrich, Reed said yes, Aldrich might call on him, “But remember, not one dollar from Mr. Huntington for my campaign fund!” Aldrich, who went to see him anyway, confided that Reed would not permit any but a few donations from personal friends and had collected a total of $12,000. Disgusted, Huntington disclosed that Reed’s rivals were not so particular about money. “The others have taken it,” he said, revealing that he had placed his bets across the board.
Another man was spending money liberally on behalf of a rival candidate. Mark Hanna, the boss of Ohio, had cast a President-maker’s eye on Reed in the previous campaign but had found him too sardonic, his oratory too Eastern and his personality hardly amenable. As Henry Adams said, Reed was “too clever, too strong-willed and too cynical” to suit the party chiefs. Since then Hanna had found his affinity in a man the antithesis of Reed—the amiable, smooth-speaking, solidly handsome McKinley, of whom it was said that his strongest conviction was to be liked. He was a man made to be managed. He had never made an enemy and his views on the crucial currency question, as a biographer tactfully put it, “had never been so pronounced as to make him unpopular” either with the silver wing or the gold-standard group. Reed now had cause to regret that in naming McKinley chairman of the Ways and Means Committee he had opened his path to prominence as sponsor of the McKinley Bill on the tariff. Since the Fifty-first Congress, when McKinley had ventured some objections to the Speaker’s methods in the matter of the quorum, Reed had had little use for him. He considered him spineless, an opinion to which he gave immortal shape in the phrase, “McKinley has no more backbone than achocolate eclair.”*
Hanna saw in McKinley less an eclair than a kind of Lohengrin and felt sure he could secure his nomination as long as McKinley’s rivals remained divided and did not unite behind any one of themselves, especially not behind Reed, the only one who had the stature for the Presidency. Hanna shrewdly judged Reed too inflexible, however, to be willing to bend for the sake of gaining the others’ support. He was right. Eastern leaders, finding the Reed camp dry of inducements, pledged their votes elsewhere. Reed was not making it easy for would-be supporters. When a political chieftain from California asked for a promise of a place on the Supreme Court for a man from his state, Reed refused, saying the nomination was not worth considering unless it were free of any deals whatsoever. The California chieftain was soon to be seen basking in Hanna’s entourage. When Governor Pingree of Michigan, who controlled the delegates from his state, came to Washington to see Reed, Aldrich had the greatest difficulty in persuading him to leave the Chair and come down to his office where the Governor was waiting. When at last he did, Pingree held forth on his views on free silver, which were obnoxious to Reed, who immediately said so. “Pingree wanted to be for Reed,” reported Aldrich helplessly. “He went away and espoused the cause of McKinley.”
Reed could see the trend but he could not have changed himself. “Some men like to stand erect,” he once said, “and some men even after they are rich and high placed like to crawl.”
When in a masterly speech he tore, trampled and demolished free silver, which was less a question of currency than of class struggle, Roosevelt, filled with enthusiasm, wrote him, “Oh Lord! What would I not give if you were our standard-bearer.” At times, however, Roosevelt confessed to being “pretty impatient” with Reed, who would not satisfy his insistence on support of a big navy. “Upon my word,” he complained to Lodge, “I do think that Reed ought to pay some heed to the wishes of you and myself.” It was a vain hope to express of a man who was not given to “heeding” anyone’s wishes. To Lodge’s annoyance, Reed also refused “to promise offices from the Cabinet down or spend money to secure Southern delegates.” Hanna, well supplied with funds, was busy in the South collecting white and Negro Republican delegates who were for sale. “They were for me until the buying started,” Reed said.
He was not sanguine and already, in a letter to Roosevelt before the Convention met, talked of retiring to the private practice of law. “In a word, my dear boy, I am tired of this thing and want to be sure that my debts won’t have to be paid by a syndicate [a reference to McKinley’s].… Moreover the receding grapes seem to ooze with acid and the whole thing is a farce.”
At St. Louis in June, Lodge made his nominating speech. Reed received 84 votes on the first ballot in comparison to 661 for McKinley and the grapes receded beyond reach.
President Cleveland likewise was rejected by the Democratic Convention in favor of an ambitious thirty-six-year-old Congressman from Nebraska, known for his crowd-catching oratory, who treated the Convention to the most memorable rhetoric since Patrick Henry demanded liberty or death. “Clad in the armor of a righteous cause … a cause as holy as the cause of liberty.… You shall not press down upon the brow of labour this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!” When the hysteria was over, Governor Altgeld turned a “weary face and quizzical smile” to Clarence Darrow and said, “I have been thinking over Bryan’s speech. What did he say, anyhow?”
The campaign roused the country to extremes of emotion and reciprocal hate. It was Silver against Gold, the People against the Interests, the farmer against the railroad operator who siphoned off his profits in high freight charges, the little man against the banker, the speculator and the mortgage holder. Among the Republicans there was real fear that a Democratic victory, coming after the violence of Homestead and Pullman, would mean overturn of the capitalist system. Factory owners told then men that if Bryan were elected “the whistle would not blow on Wednesday morning.” Even the Nation supported McKinley. When he won, business settled back in its seat, reinforced in its rejection of social protest. “Mark Hanna’s era,” wrote a contemporary looking back, “marked a climax of this easy defiance by the strong. I well remember the charming bulldog manner in which Hanna took up defense of unlimited private monopoly.… It was a note that can never be sounded quite so fearlessly again.”
The arena was now cleared for a different battle, in which Reed’s fate and his country’s were to be decided. Cleveland had refused to be budged when Congress passed a resolution which by recognizing the Cuban rebels as belligerents would have permitted the sale to them of arms. The resolution was “only an expression of opinion by the eminent gentlemen who voted for it,” he said, and since the power to recognize rested exclusively with the Executive he would regard it “only as advice,” which left “unaltered the attitude of this Government.” Now he was replaced by McKinley, who, though personally opposed to war with Spain, was unpracticed in the art of living up to his convictions. In Spain Premier Canovas was dead, leaving weaker hands in control. In New York William Randolph Hearst, having bought the Journal, was adapting himself to the dictum of the editor of England’s first halfpenny paper, the Daily Mail, who on being asked what sells a newspaper, replied, “War.” Hearst was helping to manufacture a war by horrendous stories of Spanish cruelties, Cuban heroism, American destiny and duty, empurpled by the demands of a circulation battle with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.
A new factor in the world was the victory of Japan over China in their local war of 1895, which caused a sudden recognition of Japan as a rising power in the East and startled Kaiser Wilhelm II into coining a phrase, die Gelbe Gefahr—“the Yellow Peril.” The rise of Japan gave urgency and cogency to the demand for the Isthmian Canal and to Captain Mahan’s contention that Cuba in the Caribbean as well as Hawaii in the Pacific were necessary for the Canal’s strategic defence. In a number of articles appearing in 1897 Mahan showed that the Carribbean was a vital military crossroads which could be controlled either from Jamaica or Cuba, and he set about proving professionally and unanswerably that Cuba from the point of view of situation, strength and resources was “infinitely superior.”
His voice echoed in the Senate through Lodge, who repeated the argument that the Canal would make a Cuba a “necessity.” As extra inducement to Senators more materially than strategically minded, he expanded on how that “splendid island … still sparsely settled and of almost unbounded fertility” offered great opportunities for the investment of American capital and as a market for American goods. Roosevelt, although he had no such forum, was earnestly pleading the same cause wherever he had a hearing. The vociferous campaign he and Lodge were waging reached an august listener who was not pleased.
President Charles William Eliot of Harvard, the “topmost oak” of New England, speaking in Washington on the much-debated issue of international arbitration, denounced the doctrine of jingoism as “offensive.” Associated with countries where there had always been a military class, it was, he said, “absolutely foreign to American society,… yet some of my friends endeavor to pass it off as patriotic Americanism.” He then laid down firmly the principles which he believed made America different from the old nations. “The building of a navy and the presence of a large standing army mean … the abandonment of what is characteristically American.… The building of a navy and particularly of battleships is English and French policy. It should never be ours.” The American policy was reliance upon strength in peace, whereas Jingoes were a creation “of the combativeness that is in man.” He specifically identified Lodge and Roosevelt as Jingoes and privately, it was learned, called them “degenerated sons of Harvard.”
Eliot spoke with unmatched authority. Descended from Eliots and Lymans who had been settled in New England since the Seventeenth Century, he belonged to a group who felt themselves the best. “Eliza,” protested Mrs. Eliot when a friend joined the Episcopal church, “do you kneel down in church and call yourself a miserable sinner? Neither I nor any of my family will ever do that!” His father, a mayor of Boston and a Congressman, was also, as treasurer of Harvard, a member of the seven-man Corporation, Harvard’s governing body, which an English observer called “government by seven cousins.” His own quarter of a century as president of Harvard had been an unremitting battle against the traditionalists to transform the college from an Eighteenth Century backwater into a modern university. During that time he had, as President Hyde of Bowdoin said, been “misunderstood, maligned, misrepresented, hated,” and Eliot himself confessed that in all his public appearances during those years, “I had a vivid sense that I was addressing a hostile audience.” Being a fighter, this did not halt him. He was not naturally an ingratiating man. Over six feet tall, with “an oarsman’s back, a grave and sculptured head,” he was a “noble presence” born to command. A strawberry birthmark which covered one side of his face and pulled a corner of his lip into a seeming superciliousness had set him apart from boyhood and given him a quality of loneliness. With this to overcome and the additional handicap of being, as Professor of Chemistry, a scientist, he had nevertheless been named president of Harvard at thirty-five. His ideal of behavior, in his own words, was that of “a gentleman who is also a democrat.” He was inflexible about what he thought was right. When a star baseball player was left off the Harvard team because of low marks, Eliot was heard to remark that this was no loss because he was a player who resorted to deception. “Why,” he explained, “they boasted of his making a feint to throw a ball in one direction and then throwing it in ANOTHER!”
Against the strenuous lethargy of the diehards he succeeded in opening the curriculum to modern studies, introducing the elective system, assembling a faculty that gave Harvard its golden age, raising the Law School and Medical School to prestige and prominence and through his influence modernizing the whole American system of higher education. When in 1894 at the age of sixty he celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary as president, opposition had given way to respect and admiration. He was suddenly recognized as Harvard’s greatest president and the “first private citizen of the country.” It was said that the Boston Symphony could not open without him and the sanguine birthmark appeared no longer as a blemish but as “an emblem of triumph over the handicaps of life.”
To Roosevelt, then thirty-eight, Eliot himself seemed one of the die-hards who refused to understand that America’s manifest destiny lay outward. Having imbibed deeply from Mahan, Roosevelt felt urgently the need of his country to equip itself for the role of greatness which the times were shaping. The distaste for that role of many of the influential men of his time made his voice shrill with frustration. “If ever we come to nothing as a nation,” he wrote Lodge after learning that they had been called “de-generated sons of Harvard,” “it will be because the teaching of Carl Schurz, President Eliot, the Evening Post and futile sentimentalists of the international arbitration type” will produce “a flabby timid type of character which eats away the great fighting features of our race.”
It was maddening to him that now, when war with Spain was in prospect, just such a flabby timid character was in the White House. Roosevelt was determined that there should be someone inside the Administration alert and capable of making ready for great events. He had set his heart on bringing together the man who understood the new destiny—himself—with the instrument upon which all depended—the Navy. McKinley’s Secretary of the Navy was an easygoing and friendly gentleman and former Governor of Massachusetts, John D. Long. Roosevelt believed that if he himself were appointed Assistant Secretary he could, through superior force of energy and ideas, take over the real command of that office.
So did everyone else. Long somewhat apprehensively said, “Roosevelt has the character, standing, ability and reputation to entitle him to be a Cabinet minister—is not this too small for him?” The only thing against him, Lodge wrote to his friend after seeing McKinley on his behalf, was “the fear that you will want to fight somebody at once.” Nevertheless McKinley, persuaded as usual by more forceful characters, appointed Roosevelt on April 5, 1897, and he was confirmed on April 8. S. S. McClure, the exposive and perceptive editor of McClure’s Magazine, sensed whence the appointment came and where it would lead. “Mahan must be seen and talked to at once,” he wrote to his co-editor. “He is the greatest naval biographer and student of this century and his field is going to become more and more popular.” An identical twin of his time, McClure knew what his twin would do. “Roosevelt seems big from here,” he continued. “Write to him and try to get his naval stuff. Mahan and Roosevelt are just our size.” This was indeed so. McClure shared their feeling of power and muscle and largeness of opportunity. When in the last year of the century he wanted Walter Hines Page for an editor, he telegraphed him, “Should see you immediately. Have biggest thing on earth.” When Page agreed to come, McClure was jubilant and replied that they would make the strongest editorial combine in the world. “Oh my dear boy, we are the people with the years in front of us!”
Now the long-thwarted annexation of Hawaii was revived. Roosevelt in the effort to galvanize McKinley reported to him on April 22 that the Japanese had sent a cruiser to Honolulu. He wrote to Mahan asking him how to solve the political problem of acquiring the islands. “Do nothing unrighteous,” was the classic answer, “but take the islands first and solve afterward.” If he could have his way, Roosevelt replied, they would be annexed “tomorrow,” and Spain turned out of the West Indies and a dozen new battleships built at once, half of them on the Pacific Coast, He reported a regrettable disposition on the part of Congress to stop naval building until finances were firmer. “Tom Reed to my astonishment and indignation takes this view.”
Still firm in command of the Republican members, Reed could subdue any unhealthy lust among them for annexation, but as Speaker he was bound to pilot Administration policy through the House. The question was, what was Administration policy: the soft reluctance of McKinley or the “outward” drive of Lodge and Roosevelt powered by the ideas of Mahan and the persuasions of the sugar trust? The answer came in June, when a new treaty of annexation was concluded with the Hawaiian government, signed by McKinley and sent to the Senate for ratification. Although there was little likelihood of assembling two-thirds of the Senate in favor of it, the anti-expansionists were worried. Carl Schurz, whom McKinley, always anxious to please, had earlier assured of his disinterest in Hawaii, faced him with the issue after dinner in the White House, over cigars. Very uncomfortable, McKinley pleaded that he had sent the treaty to the Senate only to get an expression of opinion. Nevertheless, Schurz left with a heart “heavy with evil forebodings.” In England the Spectator said somewhat nervously that the treaty marked “an end to the historic policy of the Republic since its foundation … and will mean its gradual evolution into a less peaceful and possibly militant power.”
With regard to Cuba, the country was becoming increasingly excited. Reed regarded the Hearst-fabricated furor over Spain’s oppression with contempt and Republican espousal of Cuba’s cause as hypocrisy. He saw his party losing its moral integrity and becoming a party of political expediency in response to the ignorant clamor of the mob. Without compunction he suppressed the resolution recognizing the belligerence of the “Republic” of Cuba. He too took to the magazines to argue against expansion—in an article whose title, “Empire Can Wait,” became a rallying cry for the opponents of Hawaii’s annexation. It spoke the awful name; as yet the outright words “empire” and “imperialism,” which connoted the scramble for Africa then at its peak among the European powers, had not been used in the United States. James Bryce, perhaps the only Englishman who could have been allowed to give advice, urged Americans to have nothing to do with a policy of annexation. America’s remote position and immense power, he wrote in the Forum, freed her from the burden of armaments crushing the European powers. Her mission in the world was “to show the older peoples and states an example of abstention from the quarrels and wars and conquests that make up so large and lamentable a part of the annals of Europe.” To yield to the “earth-hunger” now raging among the European states would be “a complete departure from the maxims of the illustrious founders of the republic.” Behind his sober words could be sensed the love a man feels for the object of his life’s work and a pleading to America not to contradict the promise that hung about her birth.
Mahan’s mind, planning the strategy of a war with Spain, had already leapt beyond Hawaii to the far-off Spanish possession of the Philippines. What motivated him was not earth-hunger but sea power, the controlling idea which had drawn from him the grand orchestral words about the British Navy in the Napoleonic wars: “Those far distant, storm-beaten ships upon which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and the dominion of the world.” At the end of 1897 he entered the rising debate with a book, The Interest of America in Sea Power, in which were collected his major articles over the past seven years. He also advised Roosevelt on the appointment of a new commander of the Asiatic Squadron who could be trusted to act with vigor when the test should come. The chosen officer was Commodore George Dewey and his task was foreseen. “Our Asiatic Squadron should blockade and, if possible, take Manila,” Roosevelt wrote to Lodge on September 21, 1897, and he took care to obtain the necessary coal to prepare the Asiatic Squadron for action.
On February 15, 1898, the United States armored cruiser Maine blew up and sank in the harbor of Havana with the loss of 260 lives. Although the cause of the explosion was never ascertained, it was impossible in the mood of the time to assume other than a dastardly Spanish plot. The proponents of war burst into hysteria; the peace-minded were outshouted. McKinley hung back, but fearful of a split in his party, soon gave way to the clamor. Speaker Reed did not. During the two months in which negotiations aimed at forcing Spain into war were being pursued, he did his best to hold back the wave, limiting time for debate and quashing resolutions recognizing Cuban independence. When Senator Proctor, who owned marble quarries in Vermont, made a strong speech for war Reed commented, “Proctor’s position might have been expected. A war will make a large market for gravestones.” He was attacked by the pro-war press and his rulings aroused resentment in the House, which, on the whole—like the country—wanted war. “Ambition, interest, land-hunger, pride, the mere joy of fighting, whatever it may be” acknowledged the Washington Post, “we are animated by a new sensation.… The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle.”
It was too strong for Reed to control. Asked by reporters one morning at breakfast at the Shoreham for comment on the stampede for war, he showed a letter he had just opened from Governor Morton of New York urging him to step down from the chair to the floor of the House and dissuade the members from intervention. “Dissuade them! The Governor might as well ask me to step out in the middle of a Kansas waste and dissuade a cyclone!” He could not keep the ultimatum to Spain from coming to the floor, and the vote for it in the House of 311 to 6 was a measure of the cyclone. To one of the six Reed said, “I envy you the luxury of your vote. I was where I could not do it.”
War was declared on April 25, 1898. Mahan, then in Rome, asked by reporters how long he thought the war would last, replied with what proved dead reckoning, “About three months.” Returning at once he was appointed one of the three members of the Naval War Board. Roosevelt sent him a plan of campaign for action in the Philippines and on receiving his comments wrote, “There is no question that you stand head and shoulder above the rest of us. You have given us just the suggestions we want.”
On April 30 Commodore Dewey’s squadron steamed into Manila Bay and with a day’s bombardment, loosed by the classic order, “You may fire when ready, Gridley,” destroyed or put out of action the Spanish squadron and shore batteries. Never had the country felt such a thrill of pride. GREATEST NAVAL ENGAGEMENT OF MODERN TIMES was one headline. It faced the country suddenly with a new problem which none but a few had thought of: What to do next? The American people on the whole, as Mr. Dooley said, did not know whether the Philippines were islands or canned goods, and even McKinley confessed “he could not have told where those darned islands were within 2,000 miles.” The disciples of Mahan knew well enough where they were and what must become of them. Within four days of Dewey’s victory Lodge wrote, “We must on no account let the islands go.… The American flag is up and it must stay.” Since there had been a Filipino independence movement in existence for thirty years, for which many had fought and suffered prison, exile and death, Senator Lodge’s simple solution took little account of the consent of the governed. Its leader was Emilio Aguinaldo, a young man of twenty-eight who had been in exile in Hong Kong. Upon Dewey’s victory, he had returned at once to the Philippines.
In America the outbreak of a war to be carried to the enemy and posing no danger to the homeland did not silence its opponents but galvanized them. Suddenly they became an entity with a name: the Anti-Imperialists. Professor Norton, now over seventy, brought upon himself torrents of abuse and threats of violence to his house and person by urging his students not to enlist in a war in which “we jettison all that was most precious of our national cargo.” Although a Boston Irish politician proposed to send a lynching party for him and the press called him a “traitor” and even Senator Hoar of Massachusetts denounced him, Norton’s grief at his country’s course was too great to be contained. At a meeting of the Congregational Church in Cambridge he spoke of how bitter it was that now, at the end of a century which had seen the greatest advance in knowledge and the hope of peace, America should be turning against her ideals and “plunging into an unrighteous war.”
Others in Boston spoke out. Moorfield Storey, president of the Massachusetts Reform Club and Civil Service Reform League, and a former president of the American Bar Association, was one; Gamaliel Bradford, a rampant critic of government known for his one-man crusades through a flow of letters to newspapers, was another. The first Story (minus the e) had settled in Massachusetts in 1635 and Bradford was descended from the first Governor of the Plymouth Colony. Together they assembled a meeting of protest at Faneuil Hall, and here on June 15, 1898, three days after Aguinaldo in the Philippines issued a declaration of independence, the Anti-Imperialist League was founded. Its president was the eighty-year-old Republican George S. Boutwell, former Senator from Massachusetts and former Secretary of the Treasury under President Grant. Its stated purpose was not to oppose the war as such, but to insist that having been undertaken as a war of liberation, it must not be turned into one for empire. The quest for power, money and glory abroad, the League maintained, would distract from reform at home and bring in its train a strong central government destructive of traditional states’ rights and local liberties. Americans had enough to do to solve the problems of municipal corruption, war between capital and labour, disordered currency, unjust taxation, the use of public office for spoils, the rights of the colored people in the South and of the Indians in the West, before taking alien peoples under their rule.
These were the problems that absorbed reformers—many of whom, together with independents and dissenters of various kinds and distinguished Democrats who had perforce become the anti-expansion party, now banded together under the banner of the League. Its forty-one vice-presidents soon included ex-President Cleveland; his former Secretary of War, William Endicott; former Secretary of the Treasury, Speaker Carlisle; Senator “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman; President David Starr Jordan, of Stanford; President James B. Angell, of the University of Michigan; Jane Addams; Andrew Carnegie; William James; Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, and numbers of other Congressmen, clergymen, professors, lawyers and writers. The novelist William Dean Howells thought the war “an abominable business.” When his friend Mark Twain came home from an extended trip abroad, he too became a member of the League. Besides Godkin’s Evening Post, its chief voices were the Boston Herald, the Baltimore Sun and the Springfield Republican, while two other Republican papers, the Boston Evening Transcript and the Philadelphia Ledger, also gave it support.
On the side of the Anti-Imperialists was a strong sentiment, growing out of the troubles with the Negroes after the Civil War, of reluctance to take on new colored populations. Nothing but more trouble would accrue, said Godkin harshly in the Nation, from “dependencies inhabited by ignorant and inferior races” with whom Americans had no union “other than would be necessary for purposes of carpet-baggery and corruption.” Carl Schurz used the same argument against the Canal, saying that “once fairly started on a career of aggrandizement” the imperialists would insist that the Canal be bordered on both sides by American territory and would want to annex countries “with a population of 13,000,000 Spanish-Americans mixed with Indian blood” who would flood Congress with twenty Senators and fifty or sixty Representatives. Hawaii, where Orientals greatly outnumbered the whites, posed the same threat.
The Anti-Imperialists did not sweep up with them the Populists and followers of Bryan and those soon to be known as Progressives. While these groups opposed standing armies, big navies and foreign entanglements and were in theory anti-imperialist, anti-militarist and anti-European, they were simultaneously imbued with a fever to fight Spain as a cruel European tyrant stamping out liberty at America’s doorstep. Bryan called for war as loudly as Theodore Roosevelt and in sincere flattery, if less promptly, had himself appointed Colonel of the Third Nebraska Volunteers, too late to see action in Cuba. Most vociferous of all was a young lawyer from Indianapolis, already famous at thirty-six as a political orator and soon to become a leader of the Progressives. The taste of empire, the rising blood of nationalism expressed in terms of wide-flung dominion, found in Albert Beveridge its most thrilling trumpet. Like Bryan, he possessed that dangerous talent for oratory which can simulate action and even thought. The war sent Beveridge into transports of excitement.
“We are a conquering race,” he proclaimed in Boston in April, even before the victory of Manila Bay. “We must obey our blood and occupy new markets and if necessary new lands.… In the Almighty’s infinite plan … debased civilizations and decaying races” were to disappear “before the higher civilization of the nobler and more virile types of man.” Pan-Germans in Berlin and Joseph Chamberlain in England also talked of the mission of the superior race, variously Teutonic or Anglo-Saxon, but Beveridge had nothing to learn from them; it was all his own. He saw in present events “the progress of a mighty people and their free institutions” and the fulfillment of the dream “that God had put in the brain” of Jefferson, Hamilton, John Bright, Emerson, Ulysses S. Grant and other “imperial intellects”; the dream “of American expansion until all the seas shall bloom with that flower of liberty, the flag of the great Republic.” It was not so much liberty as trade that Beveridge saw following the flag. American factories and American soil, he said, were producing more than the American people could consume. “Fate has written our policy for us; the trade of the world must and shall be ours.… We will cover the ocean with our merchant marine. We will build a navy to the measure of our greatness.… American law, American order, American civilization will plant themselves on those shores hitherto bloody and benighted but by those agencies of God henceforth to be made beautiful and bright.”
Beveridge was so carried away by the opportunities for greatness that the sword he waved flashed almost too nakedly. He spoke of the Pacific as “the true field of our operations. There Spain has an island empire in the Philippines.… There the United States has a powerful Squadron. The Philippines are logically our first target.”
During the summer while others volunteered and fought in Cuba and sickened of yellow fever and over five thousand died of disease, Beveridge’s personal obedience to the call of blood remained rhetorical. He poured scorn on the Anti-Imperialist arguments. “Cuba not contiguous? Porto Rico not contiguous? The Philippines not contiguous?… Dewey and Sampson and Schley will make them contiguous and American speed, American guns, American heart and brain and nerve will keep them contiguous forever!… Who dares to halt it now, now when we are at last one people, strong enough for any task, great enough for any glory destiny can bestow?” In the following year Beveridge was elected Senator. “We’re a gr-reat people,” remarked Mr. Dooley. “An’ the best iv it is, we know we ar-re.”
Theodore Roosevelt in these months was at the front. Though he held a high and crucial office he had made up his mind in advance to give it up, if war came, for active service. Men like himself, as he wrote privately to a friend, having been taunted with being “armchair and parlor Jingoes,… my power for good whatever it may be, would be gone if I didn’t try to live up to the doctrines that I have tried to preach.” He resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy immediately after Manila, declined the command of a volunteer cavalry regiment which was offered him by Secretary of War Alger, but asked to serve as Lieutenant Colonel on condition that the command was given to his friend Colonel Leonard Wood of the regular army. This was done. By June 24, two months later, he was in action at San Juan Hill. By July 3 the land fighting was over, the ebullient Rough Rider was a hero and was triumphantly elected Governor of New York in November.
Meanwhile in a Congress flushed with war, advocates of the annexation of Hawaii saw renewed opportunity. Still unable to muster two-thirds of the Senate, they had decided to resort to annexation by a Joint Resolution, which required only a simple majority. The resolution had been introduced in the Senate on March 16 but Reed had been able to prevent its coming to the floor of the House all during the excitement in April. His ruthless command, commented the Washington Post on April 15, made him “the most dangerous antagonist in public life.” He was in fact the only man whom the dauntless Beveridge did not care to take on. When urged to write to Reed to persuade him not to oppose expansion, Beveridge replied, “I feel that any effort of mine upon the Gibraltar-like mind and will of the Speaker would be absolutely ineffectual.”
After the war reached the Pacific, however, even Reed was finding it hard to maintain his iron control. Exasperated, he told Champ Clark of Missouri he wished Dewey would “sail right away from that place. It will make us trouble for all time to come if he does not.” The annexationists argued that if the United States did not take Hawaii, Great Britain would, or alternatively Japan, who was already plotting to gain control by encouraging the influx of Japanese subjects subsidized by their government. Besides, it now lay clearly in the American path. “We need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California,” McKinley told his secretary, George Cortelyou, on May 4. “It is Manifest Destiny.”
On May 4 the resolution was introduced in the House. Reed stifled it for three weeks against growing pressure. The excuse that control of Hawaii was necessary for the defeat of Spain in the Pacific he regarded as a pure pretext conceived by the sugar interests and imperialists. In this he was at odds with the President, almost all his party in Congress and with friends outside. “The opposition now comes exclusively from Reed, who is straining every nerve to beat Hawaii,” Lodge wrote to Roosevelt. Reed even went to the length of enlisting help from the Democrats. When the future Speaker, Champ Clark, a good friend though a Democrat, asked Reed to put him on the Ways and Means Committee, Reed begged him to go on the Foreign Affairs Committee instead, where he needed Clark’s help as “a man who believes as I do and who is a fighter.”
“If you put it that way,” Clark replied, much affected, “I’ll stand by you.” He agreed to sacrifice the place he had long coveted to help his party’s most uncompromising opponent.
Restiveness in Reed’s own party was increasing. On May 24 Republican members of the House took the unusual step of signing a petition for a caucus to consider the resolution. It presented Reed with a frontal challenge of all that he had fought for in his battle against the silent quorum. The fundamental premise of that battle and of Reed’s Rules was that the will of the House as expressed by the majority must prevail. Reed knew that from his unassailable height above the floor and with his mastery of procedural techniques he could, with Clark’s collaboration, fend off a vote on the Hawaii Resolution, but he could not change sentiment. He knew that his own, the majority, party wanted annexation and that the House on the whole was in favor of it. By summoning all his authority he might frustrate the resolution, but if he did, his success would nullify what he had earlier won: the reform which assured that the House really controlled itself, that no tricks of procedure, no arbitrary rules of a Speaker could obstruct the will of the majority. The purpose of the quorum battle had now come to a test, and with tragic irony, against himself. He would have to choose between his hatred of foreign conquest and his duty as Speaker; between, on the one hand, his own deepest beliefs, and on the other, Reed’s Rules.
There was only one choice he could make. Knowing too well the value of what he had accomplished in the Fifty-first Congress, he bowed to the majority. Debate opened on June 11, and on June 15 the resolution passed by 209 to 91 with practically unanimous Republican support. Reed was not in the Chair. Representative Dalzell, substituting, announced before the vote, “The Speaker of the House is absent on account of illness. I am requested by him to say that were he present he would vote No.” Reed had taken a stand, said the Nation, “absolutely alone” among his party. “Courage to oppose a popular mania, above all to go against party, is not so common a political virtue that we can afford not to pay our tribute to the man who exhibits it.”
Annexation of Hawaii was formally ratified on July 7, four days after the war in Cuba was brought to an end by a naval battle off Santiago. There the Spanish fleet, attempting to run the American blockade, was destroyed by the superior fire of the five so-lately-built battleships, Indiana, Oregon, Massachusetts, Iowa and Texas. With the surrender of Santiago two weeks later, Spanish rule came to an end, defeated, not by the Cuban insurgents, but by the United States. When it came to negotiation of peace terms, all the passion lavished during the past three years on the cause of Cuban liberty, all the Congressional resolutions favoring recognition of an independent Cuban Republic and disclaiming intention to annex it proved a serious obstacle to Senator Lodge’s “necessity.” To take Cuba as the fruit of conquest was impossible, however alluring its strategic and mercantile advantages, but a smaller island, Porto Rico, at least was available. Required to renounce Cuba and cede the smaller neighbor, Spain was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere. The degree of Cuba’s independence and nature of her relations with the United States was left to be worked out in the presence of an American occupation force. The result was the Platt Amendment of 1901, establishing a virtual American protectorate.
In the meantime preliminary peace terms were signed in Washington on August 12, leaving the even more troublesome question of the Philippines to be negotiated by peace commissioners who were to meet in Paris to conclude a final settlement. Drawing up a balance sheet of the war, Lodge could say with some satisfaction, “We have risen to be one of the great world powers and I think we have made an impression upon Europe which will be lasting.” Mahan writing on the same subject to Mrs. Roosevelt was rather more pompous: “The jocund youth of our people now passes away never to return; the cares and anxieties of manhood’s years henceforth are ours.”
At home the Anti-Imperialists—through meetings, protests, speeches, articles, petitions, and public conferences—were attempting to hold their country back from plucking the archipelago in the Pacific which seemed to glow with the fatal evil of the apple in the Garden of Eden. Carl Schurz urged McKinley to turn the Philippines over as a mandate to a small power, such as Belgium or Holland, so that the United States could remain “the great neutral power of the world.” In France it was the “Dreyfus summer,” and Americans, too, in those months felt that their country had reached a moment critical for its character and future. In public and private the debate raged whether to keep the Philippines or turn them over to self-government by the Filipinos. Even the usually hard-headed Mahan caught the fever of righteousness and wrote to an English friend about America’s duty to keep the Philippines, “Deus Vult! It was the cry of the Crusader and the Puritan and I doubt if man ever utters a nobler.”
A three-day conference to consider “some of the most momentous problems in the history of the Republic” was convened at Saratoga in August by leaders in public life both for and against expansion. The favored theme of the expansionists, which called forth their most energetic arguments, was a vision of the vast untapped markets of the Orient with their limitless opportunities for American enterprise. Speaking for the Anti-Imperialists, Henry Wade Rogers, president of Northwestern University and chairman of the Conference on opening day, forcefully made the point that it was not necessary to annex territory in order to trade with it. But he could not summon passion equal to that of Judge Grosscup, notorious as the man who had issued the injunction in the Pullman strike, who delivered an exuberant paean to “the new career of commercial activity upon which I trust we are about to enter.” With the Philippines and Hawaii in her hands, the United States would control the path to Asia, a whole continent with “doors swinging inward that will lead us to one half the desirable territory and one third the population of the earth.”
Samuel Gompers spoke against conquest of foreign lands not only as a betrayal of American principles but as a danger to the standards of American wage-earners. Strange combinations were wrought in the cause of anti-imperialism. When, at a later meeting in Chicago, Gompers declared that retention of the Philippines would show that “our war was without just cause,” Andrew Carnegie sent him a telegram of congratulations saying, “Let us stand together to save the Republic.”
President McKinley, after soul-searching and prayer, had arrived at the decision desired by his advisers and popular with his party: the Philippines must be kept. In Paris, Spain’s commissioners were given to understand that the time for dickering was over; possession talked. They would have to yield or face renewal of the war. A token payment of $20,000,000 was offered to grease acceptance of the inevitable. On December 10 the Treaty of Paris was signed, transferring sovereignty of the Philippines to the United States, with the $20,000,000 to follow upon ratification. “We have bought ten million Malays at $2.00 a head unpicked,” remarked Reed acidly, and in the most prescient comment made by anyone at the time, he added, “and nobody knows what it will cost to pick them.”
Although by now it was half expected, Aguinaldo and his forces learned of the settlement in bitterness and anguish, many of them hardly able to believe that their liberators and allies had turned into a new set of conquerors. Without an organized army or modern weapons, they prepared to fight again, while waiting for a still possible default. The strong anti-imperialist current in the United States was known to them and there was hope that the Senate would fail to ratify the treaty.
Reopening on December 5, 1898, the winter session of Congress was dominated by the fight over the treaty, more intense than that over Hawaii. Every vote counted. To gather their two-thirds, the Republicans led by Lodge as chief Whip had to utilize every artifice, every argument, every avenue of pressure upon their own members and whatever Democrats might be amenable, while the anti-expansionists struggled to hold firm just enough Senators to make a third plus one. In the House at this time certain members proposed to Reed a coalition of Democrats and anti-imperialist Republicans in order to pass a House resolution against the treaty which would lead to its defeat in the Senate. Though it was no secret in Washington’s inner circles by now that he “despised” the Administration, Reed refused. While he remained its pilot, he was not prepared to lead a revolt against it. His task as Speaker was filled with gall. “Reed is terribly bitter,” wrote Lodge to Roosevelt, “saying all sorts of ugly things about the Administration and its policy in private talks so that I keep out of his way for I am fond of him and confess that his attitude is painful and disappointing to me beyond words.”
The public was not happy about the Philippine adventure and confused as to its duty. Democrats and Populists especially had felt the war in Cuba to be in the cause of freedom. Now, through some sorcery of fate, the war had turned into a matter of imposing sovereignty over an unwilling people by right of conquest. America had become the new Spain. In this unhappy moment impressive advice was offered through the combined effort of two men with the same extraordinary sensitivity to history-in-the-making. On February 1, 1899, S. S. McClure published in a two-page spread in his magazine an exhortation in verse by Rudyard Kipling addressed to the Americans in their perplexity.
Take up the White Man’s burden
Send forth the best ye breed,
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild,
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.…
Take up the White Man’s burden
The savage wars of peace,
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease.…
Ye dare not stoop to less—
The note of righteousness was reinstated; Kipling had struck the perfect combination of noble destiny and unselfish mission. Widely reprinted and quoted, the poem spread across the country within a week, doing much to reconcile the hesitant to the imperial task.
In Washington it appeared as if opponents of the treaty might be successful, for the Republicans lacked one vote to make up the two-thirds for ratification. Suddenly, William Jennings Bryan arrived in Washington and to the amazement of his followers urged them to vote for the treaty. As leader of the Democratic party, he fully intended to be the standard-bearer himself in 1900, but he recognized the need of a new standard. Calculating that he could not win on a repetition of the silver issue, he was perfectly prepared to give it up in favor of imperialism, a new crown of thorns. He was sure that retention of the Philippines would be productive of so much trouble as to make a flaming campaign issue—but it must be consummated first. Consequently, he told his party, it would not do to defeat the treaty. This extraordinary reasoning astounded and even shocked those legislators who had thought a principle was involved. Senator Pettigrew, the “silver” Senator of South Dakota, was “so incensed that I finally told him he had no business in Washington on such an errand.” In the delicate balance that prevailed, the most important issue since Secession depended on the votes of one or two vacillating Senators. Some were affected when Bryan argued that to ratify the treaty would end the war.
At this point, with the vote scheduled for February 6, with the outcome uncertain, with each side anxiously canvassing and counting every possible aye and nay, the Filipinos rose in their own war of independence. Their forces attacked the American lines outside Manila on the night of February 4. In Washington, although the news intensified the frenzied speculation, no one could be certain what effect it would have. A last-minute petition signed by ex-President Cleveland, President Eliot of Harvard and twenty-two other men of national prominence was addressed to the Senate, protesting against the treaty unless it included a provision against annexing the Philippines and Porto Rico. “In accordance with the principles upon which our Republic was founded we are in duty bound to recognize the rights of the inhabitants … to independence and self-government,” it said, and pointed out that if, as McKinley had once declared, the forcible annexation of Cuba would be “criminal aggression by our code of morals,” annexation of the Philippines would be no less so. Its text was unanswerable but it offered no judgeships, political futures or other coin that Lodge and Bryan were dealing in.
When the Senate voted on February 6, the treaty won by 57–27, with a one-vote margin. It was “the closest, hardest fight I have ever known,” said Lodge. In the aftermath one thing on which all agreed was that Bryan had swung the deciding votes. By the time the vote was counted 59 Americans were dead and 278 wounded and some 500 Filipinos were casualties in the Philippines. The cost of picking Malays was just beginning to be paid.
“The way the country puked up its ancient principles at the first touch of temptation was sickening,” wrote William James in a private letter. Publicly, to the Boston Evening Transcript, he wrote, “We are now openly engaged in crushing out the sacredest thing in this great human world—the attempt of a people long enslaved” to attain freedom and work out its own destiny. The saddest thing for men such as James was the parting with the American dream. America, Norton wrote, “has lost her unique position as a leader in the progress of civilization, and has taken up her place simply as one of the grasping and selfish nations of the present day.”
To many others the knowledge of American guns firing on Filipinos was painful. The anger of the Anti-Imperialists deepened and their membership increased to half a million, with branches of the League in Boston and Springfield, in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon. “We are false to all we have believed in,” wrote Moorfield Storey. “This great free land which for more than a century has offered a refuge to the oppressed of every land, has now turned to oppression.” Still unwilling to give up, he hoped for leadership from Reed, whom Roosevelt had called “the most influential man in Congress.” Writing to Senator Hoar, Storey begged him to “persuade Mr. Reed to come out as he should. He is very sluggish and lacks aggression in great matters. If he would come out I think he might really be the next President.”
It was too late. Reed’s sluggishness was that of a man for whom the fight has turned sour. Others whose main interest lay in non-political fields could feel as deeply without being shattered. Reed’s whole life was in Congress, in politics, in the exercise of representative government, with the qualification that for him it had to be exercised toward an end that he believed in. His party and his country were now bent on a course for which he felt deep distrust and disgust. To mention expansion to him, said a journalist, was like “touching a match” and brought forth “sulphurous language.” The tide had turned against him; he could not turn it back and would not go with it.
Like his country, he had come to a time of choice. He could go on to another term as Speaker, but already he could see signs of growing feeling in the House that he was too hostile to the Administration to continue as its principal lieutenant. Joe Cannon and others of his old associates were antagonized by his attitude and his remarks about the President but none dared attempt a contest to unseat him. The President lacked the nerve to come out openly in support of anyone else. Reed knew he could hold his command but it would be a term at bay against a pack snarling at his feet. He became “moody and ugly” in these days and curt to old colleagues whom he saw deserting him.
To retain office as Speaker would be to carry through a policy in the Philippines abominable to him. It would be to continue as spokesman of the party of Lincoln, which had been his home for so long and which had now chosen, in another way than Lincoln meant, to “meanly lose the last best hope of earth.” To his longtime friend and secretary, Asher Hinds, he said, “I have tried, perhaps not always successfully, to make the acts of my public life accord with my conscience and I cannot now do this thing.” For him the purpose and savor of life in the political arena had departed. He had discovered mankind’s tragedy: that it can draw the blueprints of goodness but it cannot live up to them.
In February, 1899, after the vote on the treaty, he made his choice. Although he said nothing publicly at this time, rumors that he intended to withdraw from politics began to appear in the press. When reporters came to ask him about his hostility to the Philippines policy and the Nicaragua Canal bill, he brushed aside their questions with an expression of “fatigue and disgust.” In April, after the close of the Fifty-fifth Congress, he authorized an announcement. The unbelievable proved true. Speaker Reed would retire from Congress and after a vacation in Europe would take up the private practice of law in New York as senior partner in the firm of Simpson, Thacher and Barnum.
“Congress without Tom Reed! Who can imagine it!” exclaimed an editorial in the New York Tribune. Everywhere was felt a half-frightened sense as of some great landmark being removed, leaving a gaping hole at the feet of observers. The Times, never one of his admirers, was moved to a full-column editorial on the “national loss.” It felt “there must be something wrong in the political condition” that made such a man leave public life for the private practice of law. Its Washington correspondent called the event a “calamity” for Congress in the degree to which it would reduce the level of ability after the Speaker departed. Godkin in the Evening Post mourned the passing from political life of that rare phenomenon, “a mature, rational man.”
Reed himself offered no public explanation of his going except to say, in a farewell letter to his constituents in Maine, “Office as a ribbon to stick in your coat is worth no-one’s consideration.” Cornered in the Manhattan Hotel in New York by reporters who urged that the public would want to hear from him, he replied, “The public! I have no interest in the public,” and turned on his heel and walked away.
Military operations in the Philippines swelled in size and savagery. Against the stubborn guerrilla warfare of the Filipinos, the U.S. Army poured in regiments, brigades, divisions, until as many as 75,000—more than four times as many as saw action in Cuba—were engaged in the islands at one time. Filipinos burned, ambushed, raided, mutilated; on occasion they buried prisoners alive. Americans retaliated with atrocities of their own, burning down a whole village and killing every inhabitant if an American soldier was found with his throat cut, applying the “water cure” and other tortures to obtain information. They were three thousand miles from home, exasperated by heat, malaria, tropical rains, mud and mosquitoes. They sang, “Damn, damn, damn the Filipino, civilize him with a Krag …” and officers on occasion issued orders to take no more prisoners. They won all the skirmishes against an enemy who constantly renewed himself. A raiding party which missed Aguinaldo but captured his young son made headlines. Reed, coming into his office that morning, said in mock surprise to his law partner, “What, are you working today? I should think you would be celebrating. I see by the papers that the American Army has captured the infant son of Aguinaldo and at last accounts was in hot pursuit of the mother.”
Aguinaldo fought for time in the hope that anti-imperialist sentiment in America would force withdrawal of the forces already sickening of their task. The longer the war continued, the louder and angrier grew the Anti-Imperialist protests. Their program adopted at Chicago in October, 1899, demanded “an immediate cessation of the war against liberty.” They collected and reported all the worst cases of American conduct in the Philippines and all the most egregious speeches of imperialist greed and set them against the most unctuous expressions of the white man’s mission. They distributed pamphlets paid for by Andrew Carnegie, and when the League’s executive head, Edward Atkinson, applied to the War Department for permission to send the pamphlets to the Philippines and was refused, he sent them anyway.
Anxious to end the war and placate the “new-caught sullen peoples” and govern creditably, the Administration sent various committees to investigate the atrocities, to find out what the Filipinos really wanted—short of self-government, which they said they wanted—and to report on what form of civil government to give them. In April, 1900, the shy, kindly, three-hundred-pound Judge William Howard Taft was sent out to set up a civil government, armed with a charter drawn up by the new Secretary of War, Elihu Root, which granted the Filipinos a liberal degree of internal autonomy. Since neither they nor the Americans were ready to give up fighting, the attempt was premature, but Taft stayed on, determined to govern in the interest of “the little brown brother” as soon as he was given a chance. When friends at home, concerned for his welfare, sent anxious queries about his health, he cabled Elihu Root that he had been out horseback riding and was feeling fine. “How is the horse feeling?” Root cabled back.
Despite difficulties there was no re-thinking or hesitancy among the dominant Republicans about the new career upon which America was launched. The bill for constructing the Nicaragua Canal was in the Senate and so was Albert Beveridge, more closely allied with the Almighty than ever. “We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustees under God, of the civilization of the world,” he said on January 8, 1900. He informed Senators that God had been preparing “the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples” for this mission for a thousand years.
Some of Beveridge’s generation found the new image of America repugnant. Hearing the sound of “ignoble battle” coming “sullenly over the Pacific seas,” William Vaughn Moody wrote his “Ode in a Time of Hesitation,” which appeared in the Atlantic Monthlyin May, 1900. Are we still the “eagle nation” he asked, or:
Shall some less lordly bird be set apart?
Some gross-billed wader where the swamps are fat?
Some gorger in the sun? Some prowler with the bat?
This was the conscience of the few, felt too by Godkin, who, in his disillusion, said a strange and clairvoyant thing at this time. “The military spirit,” he wrote to Moorfield Storey in January, 1900, “has taken possession of the masses to whom power has passed.”
As the war passed its first anniversary with the American forces deeply extended, there was one event ahead that might yet bring it to an end: the coming Presidential election. In this the Anti-Imperialists and Aguinaldo placed their hopes. Its earliest oddity was a boom for Admiral Dewey, partly inspired by the desperation of some Democrats to find any candidate other than Bryan. Having concluded after some study of the subject that “the office of President is not such a very difficult one to fill,” the Admiral announced he was available but as his wording did not inspire confidence and he seemed vague as to party, his candidacy collapsed. Bryan loomed.
The Anti-Imperialists were caught in an agonizing dilemma. McKinley represented the party of imperialism; Bryan in Carl Schurz’s words was “the evil genius of the anti-imperialist cause,” loathed for his betrayal in the matter of the treaty and feared for his radicalism. Schurz met with Carnegie, Gamaliel Bradford and Senator Pettigrew at the Plaza Hotel in New York in January, 1900, in an effort to organize a third party so that the American people would not “be forced by the two rotten old party carcasses to choose between two evils.” Carnegie subscribed $25,000 on the spot, while the others made up a matching sum. Shortly afterward, members of the steel trust with whom Carnegie was then negotiating the sale of his company told him that if he opposed McKinley the deal would not go through. Preferring United States Steel to a third party, Carnegie withdrew his support, received his shares and retired from business. Schurz and the others, however, held a Liberty Congress at Indianapolis, at which they called on Reed to be their candidate, but neither Reed nor anyone else wanted the vain task of leading a mugwump party. At Kansas City in July the inevitable happened: Bryan was chosen.
Campaigning on imperialism as he had planned, Bryan ranged the country as strenuously as before. He was tarnished, but his magnetism, his passion and his sincerity-of-the-moment still reached through to the people and even across the Pacific. In Bryan, but for whom the Treaty of Paris would have been defeated, the Filipinos placed their faith. “The great Democratic party of the United States will win the next fall election,” Aguinaldo promised in a proclamation. “Imperialism will fail in its mad attempt to subjugate us by force of arms.” His soldiers shouted the war cry, “Aguinaldo-Bryan!”
In their Chicago platform, anticipating the election, the Anti-Imperialists had said, “We propose to contribute to the defeat of any person or party that stands for the subjugation of any people.” There was nothing to do, as a friend wrote to ex-President Cleveland, but “to hold your nose and vote” for Bryan. The modified rapture of such people for the Democratic candidate won them the name thereafter of the “hold-your-nose-and-vote” group. So distasteful to the Nation were both candidates that it refused to support either, preferring, as a dissatisfied reader complained, to “sit on a fence and scold at both.”
The Republicans had no such difficulties. Although they preferred to be called expansionists rather than imperialists, they were proud of the condition whatever its name, and believed in its goals. Forthright as usual, Lodge said, “Manila with its magnificent bay is the prize and pearl of the East;… it will keep us open to the markets of China.… Shall we hesitate and make, in coward fashion, what Dante calls the ‘great refusal’?” Secretary Hay having pronounced the policy of the Open Door, China’s markets were much on men’s minds. During the summer of the campaign, the siege of the legations at Peking by the Boxers and the American share in the relief expedition pointed up the far-flung role the country was now playing. Its most convinced and vocal champion was McKinley’s new vice-presidential nominee, Theodore Roosevelt, who took the President’s place as chief campaigner. Unsure of victory, for the “full dinner pail” was more a slogan than a fact, he campaigned so vigorously and indefatigably that to the public and cartoonists the Rough Rider with the teeth, pince-nez and unquenchable zest appeared to be the real candidate. He derided the specter of militarism as a “shadowy ghost,” insisted that expansion “in no way affects our institutions or our traditional policies,” and said the question was not “whether we shall expand—for we have already expanded—but whether we shall contract.”
The country listened to thousands of speeches and read thousands of newspaper columns raking over every argument for and against imperialism and every aspect of the war in the Philippines. It learned, thanks to the efforts of the Anti-Imperialists, more about the conduct of its own troops than the public usually does in wartime. Dumdum bullets, so thoroughly disapproved (except by the British) at The Hague Peace Conference the year before, were found to have been issued to some American troops. In the end the American people, like the British in their Khaki election of the same year, approved the incumbents. What a people thinks at any given time can best be measured by what they do. McKinley and Roosevelt were elected by 53 per cent of the votes cast and with a greater margin over Bryan than had been received in 1896. Expansion and conquest were accepted and the break with the American past confirmed. Still at war in the Philippines, America moved into the Twentieth Century.
For Aguinaldo, after the election, there was nothing more to hope for. Retreating into the mountains, still fighting, he was captured by trickery in March, 1901, and in captivity in April signed an oath of allegiance to the United States together with a proclamation to his people calling for an end to resistance: “There has been enough blood, enough tears, enough desolation.”
Professor Norton voiced the elegy of the Anti-Imperialists. “I reach one conclusion,” he wrote to a friend in the month of Aguinaldo’s capture, “that I have been too much of an idealist about America, had set my hopes too high, had formed too fair an image of what she might become. Never had a nation such an opportunity; she was the hope of the world. Never again will any nation have her chance to raise the standard of civilization.”
Six months later came Czolgosz’s shot and McKinley’s place was taken by Roosevelt, “that damned cowboy,” as Mark Hanna said when he heard the news. The remark was not astute. It was an architect of the new age who now became its President at forty-three.
Reed wrote him a letter of good wishes but the exchange was formal and the gulf remained. Living in New York, Reed formed a congenial companionship with Mark Twain, whose wit and turn of mind and sardonic outlook matched his own. They were guests together on board the yacht of the multi-trust capitalist Henry H. Rogers for a long cruise of which the epic legend survives that Reed won twenty-three poker hands in succession. He visited Washington now and then, once arguing a case before the Supreme Court and entertaining the justices by his rather remarkable style of delivery. He did not revisit the floor of the House but would hold court and see old friends in the office of the Ways and Means Committee. On doctor’s orders he succeeded in losing forty pounds but his health was worrisome. In the summer of 1902 he was the central figure at Bowdoin’s centennial celebration, where he enjoyed “a rare good time” such as, he said, “we may have again but cannot sanely look for.” In December he was back in Washington and while in the Committee Room at the Capitol, was suddenly taken ill. He proved to be in the terminal stage of a chronic nephritis. Five days later, on December 6, 1902, he died, aged sixty-two. Joe Cannon, his successor as Speaker, said of him, “His was the strongest intellect crossed on the best courage of any man in public life that I have ever known.” With those two qualities and his “self-made laws,” Reed had stood his ground on the swampy soil of politics, uncompromising to the end, a lonely specimen of an uncommon kind, the Independent Man.
* This has also been ascribed to Roosevelt. It is not certain to whom the credit belongs.