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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 609


This is the grave of Henry Cabot Lodge.

Born in Beverly, Massachusetts in 1850, Lodge grew up in the Beacon Hill elite of the Civil War era. No one was going to out Brahmin a Cabot Lodge, let me tell you. And Henry Cabot Lodge, for all his brilliance, was as snobbish as they get. He graduated from Harvard in 1872 and then from Harvard Law in 1874, starting work as a lawyer in a leading Boston firm the next year. But he only worked very briefly, went to Europe for a year to travel, and then came back to Harvard to earn one of the first PhDs in History from that institution, writing a dissertation on the Germanic origins of Anglo-Saxon law, which is peak 1876 academic topic. He worked under Henry Adams for his dissertation and they remained lifelong friends, not to mention fellow members of the exclusive elite they both loved so well.

Somewhat unusually for a man of his position, Lodge decided to go into politics instead of business or the law. There were a few others of his ilk, such as his other long-time friend Theodore Roosevelt, who wanted to engage with Gilded Age society more than shy away from it like his mentor Adams. He was elected to the Massachusetts statehouse in 1880 for one term. In 1886, he won election to Congress. He stayed there through the 1892 elections, when the state sent him to the Senate. There he would remain until 1924, becoming one of the most powerful senators in the nation’s history.

Lodge managed the frequent position of northern Republicans during these years of being at least nominally pro-black voting rights while being deeply opposed to immigration, believing that eastern and southern Europeans could not be assimilated and diluted the Anglo-Saxon racial stock to which he was committed. He wrote:

Let every man honor and love the land of his birth and the race from which he springs and keep their memory green. It is a pious and honorable duty. But let us have done with British-Americans and Irish-Americans and German-Americans, and so on, and all be Americans … If a man is going to be an American at all let him be so without any qualifying adjectives; and if he is going to be something else, let him drop the word American from his personal description.

In some tract called “The Great Peril of Unrestricted Immigration” he wrote:

On the moral qualities of the English-speaking race, therefore, rest our history, our victories, and all our future. There is only one way in which you can lower those qualities or weaken those characteristics, and that is by breeding them out. If a lower race mixes with a higher in sufficient numbers, history teaches us that the lower race will prevail.

Ugh. Of course, he was all over literacy tests for immigrants and any other sort of immigration restriction. Basically, on this issue, Lodge would be very comfortable with Donald Trump and Steven Miller. Republicans have almost always been a white supremacist party and things have changed very little over time on this, though many in the employer class have disagreed.

Lodge was a major supporter of imperialism. He used the typical language of imperialists in valorizing the Cuban struggle for independence right up to the point that the U.S. declared war on Spain and then moved to talking about the Cubans as children who could not possibly govern themselves. He also turned immediately to an all-in support of annexation of the Philippines and Puerto Rico. He wrote to his good buddy Theodore Roosevelt, “Porto Rico is not forgotten and we mean to have it.”

In all of this, again, he mirrored Roosevelt, who became president in 1901 and pushed a Lodge-friendly program. One could not quite call Lodge a Progressive, he was too stodgy and conservative for that, but he was not an old-school Gilded Age Republican either. At the very least, he represented the anti-corruption wing of the traditional part of the party.

Lodge is best known for torpedoing the League of Nations as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In this, he was a real jerk. Yes, he had real concerns with the League of Nations, particularly Article X, which pledged American support to repeal aggression against another League member, undermining congressional authority over foreign policy. But his biggest beef is that Woodrow Wilson hadn’t included him in the negotiations. And of course once Wilson worked it out with Europe, it couldn’t easily be changed. So Lodge decided to kill it. With Americans traditionally isolationist and rapidly returning to that after the war ended, it wasn’t so hard; he had the upper hand on the president well before the latter had a stroke while campaigning for it. He also wanted Republicans to take back the White House and saw this as an opportunity. His opportunism and pissiness helped contribute to the inability of the League to deal with World War II.

Lodge continued to be a major player after World War I. Warren Harding asked him to be one of the representatives at the Washington Naval Conference. The fact that Lodge was a massive jerk, both personally and in politics, probably did more than anything else to undermining his own long-term effectiveness. Gaining many enemies, within Massachusetts politics, as well as nationally and internationally, Lodge often undermined his own ability to operate.

In 1924, Lodge needed surgery for gallstones. While under the knife, he had a massive stroke and died. He was 74 years old.

Henry Cabot Lodge is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

If you would like this series to visit other charimen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, you can donate to cover the required expenses once I return from Cuba. Key Pittman is in Reno, Nevada and Gilbert Hitchcock is in Omaha, Nebraska. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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