By Tracy Potter
Last time in Spotlight on Collections, I wrote about the history of the Cabot and Lodge families and touched briefly on Henry Cabot Lodge (1850-1924). Today I will further discuss Henry Cabot Lodge and his political and historical importance to both United States and world history.
Henry Cabot Lodge (HCL) was born in Boston in 1850. In 1871, he married Anna “Nannie” Davis. They had three children, including George Cabot Lodge who became a well known poet and the father of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (HCL II) During his early years at Harvard College, HCL began a friendship with one of his history professors, Henry Adams. Later, while in law school, HCL went on to work for Adams (unpaid) as assistant editor at the North American Review. HCL obtained a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1874 and continued on at Harvard University to obtain one of the first PhDs for history awarded in the United States in 1876. After obtaining his PhD, HCL returned to Harvard as a lecturer of American history and began writing a biography about his great-grandfather entitled Life and Letters of George Cabot. He later wrote biographies about Alexander Hamilton, Daniel Webster, and George Washington.
HCL began his political career serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1880-1881. In 1884 he became a delegate-at-large at the Republican National Convention where he developed a close friendship with fellow delegate-at-large Theodore Roosevelt of New York. During the convention both men faced a difficult decision: support the unpopular traditional party politics or the more popular party reformers. A reform movement had taken hold in the Republican Party by 1884, advocating for less corruption within party. When it became clear that the reformers would abandon party loyalty and support the Democratic nominee for president, both Roosevelt and Lodge made an unpopular choice. They remained loyal to their party supporting the Republican nominee, James Blaine, with the hope of initiating more change from within the party. This decision resulted in resentment from their reformer friends and constituents.
HCL’s and Roosevelt’s trial by fire cemented their respect for each other and their friendship, which would last through times of political partnerships and disagreements until Roosevelt’s death in 1919. The Republican National Convention of 1884 also set the tone for HCL’s political career. He was never afraid to give his opinion, to choose the unpopular choice (risking the backing of his constituents and even his own party), or to change his mind after further investigation. It was this type of politics that often alienated his constituents and fellow politicians.
In 1887 HCL was elected to the US House of Representatives, where he served until 1893. At that time he was elected to the US Senate and served there until his death in 1924. As a senator, HCL’s interests rested in foreign affairs. He often loudly advocated for issues he felt strongly towards such as a stronger US Navy, civil service reform, the federal supervision of national elections in the South, and the building of the Panama Canal. HCL just as forcefully campaigned against issues he did not agree with such as the direct election of senators by the people and the creation of the League of Nations. HCL was very vocal about his views, never pulling his punches in speeches regarding presidential policies or when confronted by disapproving pacifists. In the end, although not loved by all, HCL did a great deal for Massachusetts and for the United States as a whole (much more than I can touch on here), carrying on the legacy of the Cabot and Lodge families.
As the brevity of this blog post provides terribly inadequate space to fully describe HCL’s influence on the United States, you may wish to delve deeper into his world by reading more about his life in the following publications:
Lodge, Henry Cabot. Early Memories. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913.
Thomas, Evan. The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2010.
Washburn, Charles G. “Memoir of Henry Cabot Lodge.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 58 (1925): 324-376.
Join me on March 9th when I write about the connection between Henry Cabot Lodge and the MHS, and give an overview of his collections held by the MHS.