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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,161

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This is the grave of Albert Beveridge.

Born in 1862 in Highland County, Ohio, Beveridge grew up in Indiana. He was a working class kid and had to work from the time he was a child. But he wanted an education and eventually he got one, graduating from DePauw in 1885.

In 1887, Beveridge was admitted to the bar in Indiana and he practiced in Indiana. He was a Gilded Age guy’s Gilded Age guy. He was a frat guy in college and a joiner, the kind of guy who was in the all the right clubs and was a Mason on top of it. He also had no class politics, which one might have expected given his childhood. He became active in Indiana Republican politics pretty quickly and articulated a pro-expansion, pro-development, pro-corporate ideology. That served him well. He came known to the state level party all the way back in 1884 when he took the stump for James Blaine (and if you can take the stump for that guy, you have some kind of gift, or at least a commitment to the bit). By 1896, he was known as a nationally prominent Republican orator, stumping hard for McKinley over Bryan, which for conservative Republicans was basically a choice over whether the U.S. was going to elect the Paris Commune over a reasonable conservative man with Right Principles. And then, despite the fact that he had never held elected office before, Indiana Republicans sent Beveridge to the Senate in 1899.

Beveridge may have been a newby to elected office, but he took the Senate like gangbusters. It was a perfect time for him to walk into the Senate. Beveridge was deeply committed to American imperialism and instantly became one of the most prominent advocates of American expansionism in that body. He instantly became an ally of the powerful imperialist Republican Henry Cabot Lodge in this mission. Let there be no question–Beveridge believed in all of it. He thought the brown peoples of the world were little children that needed a white daddy to show them the way to civilization while conveniently stealing all their resources and forcing them into labor for daddy America. He articulated the White Man’s Burden as much as anyone in the country, saying, for example, that “It is racial…. He has marked the American people as His chosen nation” to civilize the rest of the world.

It’s worth noting just how extreme Beveridge’s ideas could be. Take this speech from 1900. Let’s quote a bit of it:

It has been charged that our conduct of the war has been cruel. Senators, it has been the reverse. I have been in our hospitals and seen the Filipino wounded as carefully, tenderly cared for as our own. Within our lines they may plow and sow and reap and go about the affairs of peace with absolute liberty. And yet all this kindness was misunderstood, or rather not understood. Senators must remember that we are not dealing with Americans or Europeans. We are dealing with Orientals. We are dealing with Orientals who are Malays. We are dealing with Malays instructed in Spanish methods. They mistake kindness for weakness, forbearance for fear. It could not be otherwise unless you could erase hundreds of years of savagery, other hundreds of years of Orientalism, and still other hundreds of years of Spanish character and custom. . .

Mr. President, reluctantly and only from a sense of duty am I forced to say that American opposition to the war has been the chief factor in prolonging it. Had Aguinaldo not understood that in America, even in the American Congress, even here in the Senate, he and his cause were supported; had he not known that it was proclaimed on the stump and in the press of a faction in the United States that every shot his misguided followers fired into the breasts of American soldiers was like the volleys fired by Washington’s men against the soldiers of King George, his insurrection would have dissolved before it entirely crystallized.

The utterances of American opponents of the war are read to the ignorant soldiers of Aguinaldo and repeated in exaggerated form among the common people. Attempts have been made by wretches claiming American citizenship to ship arms and ammunition from Asiatic ports to the Filipinos, and these acts of infamy were coupled by the Malays with American assaults on our government at home. The Filipinos do not understand free speech, and therefore our tolerance of American assaults on the American President and the American government means to them that our President is in the minority or he would not permit what appears to them such treasonable criticism. It is believed and stated in Luzon, Panay, and Cebu that the Filipinos have only to fight, harass, retreat, break up into small parties, if necessary, as they are doing now, but by any means hold out until the next presidential election, and our forces will be withdrawn.

All this has aided the enemy more than climate, arms, and battle. Senators, I have heard these reports myself; I have talked with the people; I have seen our mangled boys in the hospital and field; I have stood on the firing line and beheld our dead soldiers, their faces turned to the pitiless southern sky, and in sorrow rather than anger I say to those whose voices in America have cheered those misguided natives on to shoot our soldiers down, that the blood of those dead and wounded boys of ours is on their hands, and the flood of all the years can never wash that stain away. In sorrow rather than anger I say these words, for I earnestly believe that our brothers knew not what they did.

But, senators, it would be better to abandon this combined garden and Gibraltar of the Pacific, and count our blood and treasure already spent a profitable loss than to apply any academic arrangement of self-government to these children. They are not capable of self-government. How could they be? They are not of a self-governing race. They are Orientals, Malays, instructed by Spaniards in the latter’s worst estate.

They know nothing of practical government except as they have witnessed the weak, corrupt, cruel, and capricious rule of Spain. What magic will anyone employ to dissolve in their minds and characters those impressions of governors and governed which three centuries of misrule has created? What alchemy will change the Oriental quality of their blood and set the self-governing currents of the American pouring through their Malay veins? How shall they, in the twinkling of an eye, be exalted to the heights of self-governing peoples which required a thousand years for us to reach, Anglo-Saxon though we are?

Whew…..

Beveridge would take these ideas into the U.S. as well. For example, he opposed statehood for New Mexico and Arizona in 1912 because he didn’t feel a state with so many Mexicans was properly Americanized. It’s also worth noting here that while Republicans split the Dakotas and rushed through statehood for a bunch of sparsely populated but white states in 1889 to fix the Electoral College, it refused to include New Mexico, who had enough population for statehood all the way when the U.S. stole it from Mexico to expand slavery in 1848. But they weren’t the right kind of people and what if they voted for Democrats? It’s pretty much the same arguments that Republicans use today to stop DC and Puerto Rico statehood.

Beveridge was quite close to Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive ideals that he brought to the Oval Office. Since Roosevelt also believed in the White Man’s Burden and was among the most virulent racists in American history, it made sense. His desire for an expansive federal government did include fixing some of the problems of the Gilded Age. TR relied on him as a close ally in the Senate. He sponsored the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 after Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, aimed for their hearts, and hit them in the stomach. He also was a major supporter of the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910 that strengthened the ICC’s ability to regulate railroad rates. He was a major champion of the kind of child labor legislation that wouldn’t happen until the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. In fact, he was so close to TR that when Roosevelt split the Republican Party because it wouldn’t nominate him instead of Taft in 1912, Beveridge was the keynote speaker at the Progressive Party convention.

In short, Beveridge was like a lot of Progressives. If you look at them from the perspective of race or gender, they are absolutely horrible, the worst people ever puked up by this horrible nation. But if you look at them from the perspective of business regulation or labor, they look pretty good. In short, the past is complicated.

Beveridge hated Democrats generally. He lost his Senate seat in 1910 when Democrats took the Indiana Senate. They promptly tossed Beveridge out. And in fact, he never held office again. He tried, lord knows, he tried. He was the Progressive Party candidate for Indiana governor in 1912, but like all third party campaigns, it was a clown show. Like Roosevelt, he crawled back to the Republicans after this, but they didn’t trust him anymore. He despised Woodrow Wilson with the passion of a thousand suns, but this only hurt him even more with the Indiana Democrats, who were quite strong in these years. In 1922, with Senate elections now actual elections thanks to the 17th Amendment, he did manage to become the Republican nominee for the job, but he got spanked by Samuel Ralston. Like his old mentor Henry Cabot Lodge, he was a massive interventionist who wanted to get into the war, but who also despised the League of Nations, mostly because he wasn’t involved in its creation, which was Lodge’s fundamental complaint about it if you cut through the rhetoric. Moreover, like lots of the imperialist white male version of the Progressives, he grew sharply more conservatives in the 1920s, began to denounce the regulatory state that he had helped create, and spoke a lot of nostalgia about the Gilded Age. So even the good things about himself he repudiated.

After his political career ended, Beveridge turned to the serious study of American history. This was a point where a rich guy could easily write some history and get serious attention from the historical profession, which in some ways hasn’t changed too much, at least in terms of popular history. He wrote a four volume biography of John Marshall between 1916 and 1919 that won the Pulitzer. He then worked on a four volume biography of Abraham Lincoln. But that he never finished. Eventually, it was published in two volumes that covered the period up to 1858. Later, in 1939, his wife gave a bunch of money to the American Historical Association and today the Beveridge Prize for best English language book about U.S. history. It would be more appropriate if it was best book by an imperialist, but in fact, it is a very prestigious award, won in recent years by such superstars as Thavolia Glymph, Jeremy Zallen, Nan Enstad, Greg Grandin, Kate Brown, and David Chang.

The reason that Beveridge did not complete the Lincoln biography is that he died in 1927. He was 64 years old.

And now time for a weird piece of trivia. In 1901, Beveridge traveled to Russia. There, he and the travel writer Burton Holmes visited with Leo Tolstoy. They took a film of it. So we would have had more film footage of Tolstoy…..but Beveridge’s advisors believed that showing images of him and a famous Russian would hurt his presidential chances. They might have been right given the general stupidity of the American voter. So the film was destroyed.

Albert Beveridge is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana.

If you would like this series to visit other imperialists, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. John Fiske is in Petersham, Massachusetts and Josiah Strong is in Hudson, Ohio. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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