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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Legislative Nostalgia, Part Five

       "Opposed to expansion in any form, {President Grover} 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 {Hawaii} 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.
       Reed was now at the zenith of his power.  The dangerous battle of his first term was long past and the guerilla 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 shortsleeves and even challenged the cherished priviledge 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 y 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.'

       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 {Henry Cabot} 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.

       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 {McKinley} 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 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."  The Proud Tower by Barbara W. Tuchman, pgs. 130-31,141-42, 144,148-49.

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