Harry Elmer Barnes: When Good Historians Go Bad


If you were to examine the field of historians in the 1920s and 1930s for the most prominent and respected people you would find Harry Elmer Barnes (1889-1968). Barnes studied history under William Archibald Dunning, a history professor whose views on Reconstruction were, to say the least, highly negative. In 1918, Barnes became a professor and taught history at Columbia University until 1929. He founded, along with other prominent progressive historians of his day such as Charles A. Beard, James Harvey Robinson, and Carl L. Becker, the movement of “New History”. This combined history with sociology to form a history aimed at being relevant to people of the time. He also during this time pioneered historical revisionism, which was aimed at disputing the telling of history by governments and dominant politicians, which he dubbed “court history”. An atheist, Barnes applied this to traditional religions as well, “There is no such thing as sin, scientifically speaking, and hence it disappears into the limbo of ancient superstition. The Bible deserves no reverential law, the ten commandments no obedience, except so far as they conform to modern science” (U.S. Senate, 129). During World War I, he was a strong supporter of the war effort and his anti-German propaganda was even considered “too violent” by the American government. However, after the war, Barnes changed his tune as he came to strongly oppose the Versailles Treaty and viewed the Germans much more favorably.

Barnes was, you could say, an old-school progressive who was strongly anti-war and anti-imperialism. During the 1920s he wrote scholarly articles that were increasingly favorable to the Germans and Central Powers. Initially, Barnes argued that the Allies and Central Powers bore equal responsibility. In 1924, he argued that the order of responsibility was: Austria, Russia/France, and Germany. By 1926, Barnes argued in his book The Genesis of the World War, “In estimating the order of guilt of the various countries we may safely say that the only direct and immediate responsibility for the World War falls upon Serbia, France and Russia, with the guilt about equally distributed. Next in order—far below France and Russia—would come Austria, though she never desired a general European war. Finally, we place Germany and England as tied for last place, both being opposed to war in the 1914 crisis. Probably the German public was somewhat more favorable to military activity than the English people, but … the Kaiser made much more strenuous efforts to preserve the peace of Europe in 1914 than did Sir Edward Grey” (Mombauer, 88). That year, he met with the in-exile Kaiser Wilhelm II at his home in the Netherlands, who praised Barnes for his views on German war guilt. However, Barnes reported that instead of Russia and France, the Kaiser “held that the villains of 1914 were the international Jews and Free Masons, who, he alleged, desired to destroy national states and the Christian religion (Lipstadt, 68)”.  His academic work on this subject received substantial funding from the German Foreign Ministry, eager to push a counter-narrative to fight the war guilt clause of the Versailles Treaty, in which the Allies forced Germany to admit sole responsibility for the war, which was both unfair and false (Germany wasn’t solely responsible) and served as the basis for war reparations. Barnes’ view was highly revisionist on World War I, but it was far more scholarly and credible than some of his later work would be. In 1927, he was elected to the national committee of the American Civil Liberties Union. Barnes’s prominence only rose with time and his two volume series, The History of Western Civilization, was used by major educational institutions throughout the United States.

In the 1930s, Barnes gained a national audience for his column for Howard-Scripps newspapers, being read by millions. While he supported the New Deal, he stood as a strong opponent of intervention in Europe, getting involved with the America First Committee. As economist Murray N. Rothbard wrote of his opposition, “…in terms of worldly eminence, Harry made one fatal mistake: he insisted, for ever and always, on being true to his convictions and principles, let the chips fall where they may. Hence, when liberal opinion, shortly before America’s entry into World War II, began to flip-flop en masse from its previous devotion to neutrality and non-intervention, and beat the drums for war, Harry Barnes, like his fellow liberals John T. Flynn and Charles A. Beard, stood steadfast” (Rothbard, 4). As a consequence of his opposition as well as a libel lawsuit for alleging a British diplomat, Sir Robert Vansittart, conspired to start war with Germany, his column for Howard-Scripps was ended in 1940. Barnes would erroneously claim in a letter to fellow non-interventionist and friend Oswald Garrison Villard that the lawsuit was a “plot of the Jews and the Anti-Defamation League to intimidate any American historians who propose to tell the truth about the causes of the war” (Lipstadt, 80).

After World War II, Barnes continued to oppose the use of American military might, both in Korea and Vietnam. He also blamed the Cold War on Truman and Churchill, their motives being to score domestic political points. Barnes applied his revisionism to World War II and was particularly influenced by the work of Paul Rassinier, a pacifist and socialist who had been imprisoned at Buchenwald and whose belief in Holocaust denial stemmed from the fact that there were no gas chambers at that camp. The problem with that view is that Buchenwald, as terrible as conditions were there, wasn’t a death camp. Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec were death camps in which gas chambers were used. Barnes, as with his World War I revisionism, gradually escalated his views in contrariness. He first argued that atrocity stories of the Germans were exaggerated as they indeed had been of the Germans in World War I and were being used by Israel to extract reparations from Germany. With this perspective, Barnes wrongly perceived that history was repeating itself. He eventually claimed there were no gas chambers and that they were a “post-war invention”. Barnes also asserted that the suffering of German families forcibly removed from Poland and Czechoslovakia after World War II was “obviously far more hideous and prolonged than those of the Jews said to have been exterminated in great numbers by the Nazis” (Dawidowicz, 33). There was no way as a historian that he was unaware of testimony surrounding the Holocaust and the existence of the Wannsee Protocols, the conference of senior Nazi government officials to secure cooperation between departments in the implementation of the “Final Solution”.

Barnes greatly influenced a young historian, David L. Hoggan, whose original Harvard dissertation was critical of British and Polish policies for the outbreak of the war, but not beyond reason. However, after he befriended Barnes, Barnes urged him to publish his dissertation as a book. The book, The Forced War (1961), had major input from Barnes and was substantially different, in which Hitler was portrayed as a victim of Allied scheming. Worse yet, Hoggan justified anti-Semitic laws as deterrents to mass Jewish immigration, defended the cruel $1 billion Reichsmark fine imposed by Reich Marshal Hermann Goering upon the Jewish population after the horrific Kristallnacht pogrom and alleged that no Jews died in the event (91 died). He would be a Holocaust denier with ties to neo-Nazi organizations for the rest of his life.

Barnes would continue to the end to hold the Allies more responsible for World War II than Germany and that Hitler was reasonable and never wanted war. He also dug in to his claim that the Holocaust was no more than a gross exaggeration of German crimes and that evidence for gas chambers was “manufactured”. Barnes thus frequently expressed bewilderment that West Germany apologized for the Holocaust and paid reparations. He was not limited to denying gas chambers, he also denied that the Einsatzgruppen (the original SS units carrying out the Holocaust in Eastern Europe and Russia) were mass murder units, rather that they were fighting against guerillas. In 1962, he denounced a speech by West German President Heinrich Lübke in Israel asking for forgiveness of the Germans for the Holocaust, regarding it as “almost incredible grovelling” and “subservience” to the Jews (Lipstadt, 79). Although his revisionism is consistent with his World War I perspective, his Holocaust denial and efforts at minimizing the guilt of the Nazis makes it impossible to not conclude antisemitism among Barnes’ motives.

Barnes died in 1968, and his last words, according to his son Robert, were to damn Richard Nixon. Although he had some fans like paleo-libertarian Murray Rothbard and anti-war left historian William Appleman Williams, his name primarily lives on in Holocaust denial circles and in 1994 Willis Carto founded The Barnes Review, a magazine that to this day promotes Holocaust denial, antisemitism, denying the evils of slavery, and white nationalism. Like Revilo P. Oliver, Harry Elmer Barnes was one of those people who once was respected and in Barnes’ case the fall was even greater as he at one time could be counted as a titan in the field of history and counted among his friends prominent intellectuals such as H.L. Mencken, Oswald Garrison Villard, Charles A. Beard, and Norman Thomas. The concept of historical revisionism itself is not discredited, but as its foremost champion, Barnes demonstrated its limits.


Conditions in Coal Fields in Harlan and Bell Counties, Kentucky. (May 1932).  U.S. Senate.

Retrieved from


Dawidowicz, L. (1992). What is the use of Jewish history?: Essays. New York, NY: Schocken Books.

Lipstadt, D. (1993). Denying the Holocaust: The growing assault on truth and memory. New York, NY: Free Press

Mombauer, A. (2002). The origins of the First World War. London, England: Pearson.

Rothbard, M.N. (1968). Harry Elmer Barnes, RIP. Left and Right 4(1): pp. 3-8.

Retrieved from




The Fascinating Senator France…of Maryland

Joseph France, photo portrait head and shoulders.jpg

In 1916, Marylanders elected, for the first time by popular vote, a Republican senator. The Democratic nominee, Congressman David J. Lewis, was considered a bit left for the voters of the state at the time and Dr. Joseph I. France (1873-1939) narrowly prevailed. Initially, it seemed that he would simply be a member of the Republican old guard, and indeed he pretty much voted that way for his first two years, scoring a 94% on the MC-Index for the 65th Congress. France, however, was already unique in his being one of the most consistent opponents of emergency wartime measures. He was one of one of only twelve senators to vote against price controls on coal and one of only six senators to vote against the Espionage Act of 1917. France fought to preserve freedom of speech during wartime with his amendment to the Sedition Act that would have prohibited any restriction on “the liberty or impairing the right of any individual to publish or speak the truth, with good motives and justifiable ends” (Govtrack). This amendment failed by two votes and he then voted against the Sedition Act, condemning it as repressive and barbaric. He also opposed Prohibition and supported the 19th Amendment. France was so strongly opposed to the former that he went as far as to threaten to split from the party over the issue in 1920.

In the 66th Congress, he drifted a bit from his conservatism in backing measures prohibiting the use of stopwatches and bonuses for government contracted work and in his vote against the Esch-Cummins Act, which restored railroads to their private owners on net favorable terms. France’s votes on these measures won him points with organized labor. However, he was also one of the irreconcilables on the Versailles Treaty, not accepting US membership in the League of Nations under any circumstances. Although on this issue of foreign policy he aligned with conservatives, this would not be the case after the Wilson Administration. His MC-Index score for that session was 79%.

Senator France, the USSR, and the Harding Administration

After the Bolshevik Revolution, France was the first senator to visit the USSR and met and had a discussion with Premier Vladimir Lenin. In the process, he managed to secure the release of Margaret Harrison, a journalist accused of espionage. France hoped and believed that Lenin’s NEP (New Economic Program) would prove a decisive turn to capitalism, and thus pushed for diplomatic recognition and trade relations with the USSR. However, the NEP was in fact a pseudo-capitalist program to try to stimulate Russia’s economy that as history tells us, didn’t result in a capitalist system. France’s views on the subject were not looked kindly upon by the people of Maryland or most anywhere else in the United States. In his notes on their meeting, Lenin wrote that France supported an alliance between the United States, Germany, and Russia to counter French and English aggression. He had a mixed record in backing conservative proposals during the Harding Administration; while he backed a good deal of the administration’s domestic agenda including tax cuts and opposition to veterans bonuses, he voted against the Administration’s ship subsidy bill, the purpose of which was to encourage private contractors to buy over 1000 unwanted and run-down surplus ships constructed during the Wilson Administration from the government at discounted rates. France sided with progressives on foreign policy, including in their opposition to the Four Power Plan and the Japan Treaty. He was also the only senator to vote against the Washington Naval Treaty. France’s opposition to these measures was based in his view that the United States should not get into entangling alliances with Britain, France, and Japan. Many Republicans objected to his voting behavior at this point and tried to get him defeated in the primary in 1922, but he prevailed with the aid of organized labor. That year, France publicly supported the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, a change from the openly racist politicians that had often in the past been elected by the state. His overall MC-Index score for the session was 56%.

Author Paul Winchester in his 1923 book on Maryland public figures described France as an “An ultra-conservative in many of his views of public questions and a conservative radical in others” and that “He became so ultra-radical in his open views on the foreign policy of the government that practically every newspaper published in the State was opposed to him…” (Winchester, 219 & 220). His advocacy of relations with the USSR and his overall opposition to Harding-Hughes foreign policy ultimately cost him reelection in 1922 to William Cabell Bruce, an erratic conservative Democrat who had received crossover support from Republicans. In 1932, France challenged Herbert Hoover for the Republican nomination for president, but of course wasn’t successful. At the Republican National Convention, he attempted to nominate Calvin Coolidge but was denied access to the rostrum. In 1934, France attempted a return to the Senate but was defeated by Democrat George Radcliffe by over 15 points and died five years later at his home of a heart attack in his sleep.

Doctor France was one of the most principled men to have ever been elected to the Senate. His lifetime MC-Index score of 76% doesn’t seem to fully do the dramatic range of his political views justice, as he quite often took positions that were extreme in one direction or another, whereas that score indicates “moderate conservatism”. France was about as close as you can get to a pure Burkean legislator, as he practiced the “trustee model” of representation in voting for what he thought was right, not what the voters thought was right and he paid for it by losing reelection. This is also what happened to Edmund Burke in Parliament after publicly standing for this model of representation.


France Amendment to H.R. 8753 (Sedition Act). Govtrack.

Retrieved from


Winchester, P. (1923). Men of Maryland since the Civil War: Sketches of United States Senator Arthur Pue Gorman and his contemporaries and successors and their connection with public affairs, Volume I. Baltimore, MD: Maryland County Press Syndicate.



Herbert Marcuse – Grandfather of “Social Justice Warriors” and Notes on Repressive Tolerance


The modern New Left, or as denizens of the internet puts it, “Social Justice Warriors”, are through their behaviors very closely following the views of one philosopher whether they realize it or not. Although some of these people have certainly never heard of or read Herbert Marcuse’s works, they are nonetheless influenced by his ideas. A bit of background about Marcuse is called for to understand where he is coming from. He was born in Berlin in 1898 to a Jewish family and in 1916 he was drafted into the German Army to fight in World War I. Marcuse subsequently participated in the Spartacist Uprising that accompanied the German Revolution of 1918-19, a distinctly communist part of the movement suppressed by the German government and the Freikorps. In the years that followed, he studied philosophy and was a protégé of the famous Martin Heidegger. In 1932, Marcuse joined the Institute for Social Research, popularly known as the Frankfurt School. The Frankfurt School, for those not in the know, is prominently taught in the social sciences in many American universities and is Marxist (although not of the Leninist variety), Freudian, and Hegelian in outlook. While Heidegger joined the Nazi Party, as a Marxist of Jewish background Marcuse’s career in Germany came to a halt and he fled the country. He eventually found his way to the United States and in 1940 he became a citizen. Marcuse then worked for the Office of War Information (OWI) where he was involved in crafting anti-Nazi propaganda and then from 1943 to 1945 worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Marcuse subsequently entered into American academia, teaching at Brandeis University and then at UC San Diego. He became greatly known in the 1960s for his academic works that opposed militarism, consumerism, Soviet-style communism, capitalism, and supported sexual revolution (in just about every sense). Interestingly, Marcuse rejected class struggle theory in favor of sexual revolution as being key to liberation since a rising of the proletariat was not panning out, a major departure from traditional Marxism. Thus, he became very popular with the New Left and although he somewhat minimized his own influence, stating that the was the grandfather rather than the father of the New Left, his ideas have in the last seven years grown in popularity among the American left. Although he died in 1979, Marcuse seems more relevant than ever.

Marcuse’s most famous works are Eros and Civilization (1955), One-Dimensional Man (1964), and his essay Repressive Tolerance (1965). I have read no more than brief summaries of the first two, but I did read the latter. A real brief description of his books, and if you are more interested by all means take it upon yourself to read them: Eros and Civilization calls for a utopian society free from sexual repression while One-Dimensional Man critiques both capitalism and Soviet communism as socially repressive and bureaucratic and capitalism for promoting “false needs” through manipulative marketing and thus compromising the ability of people to reason. Marcuse finds a proletarian uprising unlikely as they have been integrated into consumerist society and thus sees potential in societal outsiders for fomenting revolutionary thinking, such as racial minorities and people outside sexual norms, and calls for a “Great Refusal” to consumerist culture as the only way forward. For what I read, I took extensive notes which I have written below. All quotes are from Repressive Tolerance.

Notes on Marcuse’s “Repressive Tolerance”

. The realization of tolerance calls for “intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed. In other words, today tolerance appears again as what it was in its origins, at the beginning of the modern period – a partisan goal, a subversive liberating notion and practice.”

Tolerance, per Marcuse, is to the prevailing order merely a means to an end and not an end in itself.

“Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery.”

Marcuse believes that a utopian existence is possible and does not seem to account that fear and misery are human emotions and are therefore subjective and thus impossible to eliminate. I do, however, assume that he is broadly referring to common sources of human suffering such as war, poverty, and disease, which can be mitigated. He also believes that the current regimen of tolerance is compulsory and passive to the authorities, who reciprocate with tolerance to objections to the current system provided said objections exist in an acceptable range for authorities.

Marcuse believes that modern society and government pushes what is “radically evil”. Some of the sins he lists include:

. Publicity and propaganda compromising the ability to reason among people, or what he refers to as “moronization”.

. Militarism…which is foremost in his mind and part of why Marcuse is strongly associated with the New Left.

. Aggressive driving.

. Planned obsolescence.

. Deception in merchandizing.

Regards the acceptance of increasing militarization a greater evil than juvenile delinquency, regarding the militarization itself as delinquency of civilization.

Marcuse seems to think that power in this system flows only one way: top-down. The people down tolerate while the top imposes. He also thinks that people buy publicity and propaganda uncritically, which is a questionable claim broadly and certainly isn’t true for everyone. Many products require a mere fraction of the population buying into marketing campaigns for their prosperous existence to continue.

Marcuse regards political rights as subterfuge for the true nature of the system and that limiting opposition to non-violence is itself repressive. For him, the Smith Act of 1940, which prohibits calling for the violent overthrow of the United States government (a direct response to communist ideology), is certainly an abomination.

Marcuse does not consider tolerance to be a genuine end unless it is universally practiced…as he puts it, “by the rulers as well as by the ruled, by the lords as well as by the peasants, by the sheriffs as well as by their victims”. I cannot help but note the phrasing, “their victims”, presages the anti-police sentiments that sprung up among certain groups in the 2010s over some well publicized and controversial cases of police killings of unarmed black men.

Marcuse identifies two forms of tolerance currently existing that serve to entrench the system:

“1. The passive toleration of entrenched and established attitudes and ideas even if their damaging effect on man and nature is evident…

  1. the active, official tolerance granted to the Right as well as to the Left, to movements of aggression as well as to movements of peace, to the party of hate as well as to the party of humanity I call this non-partisan tolerance ‘abstract’ or ‘pure’ inasmuch as it refrains from taking sides – but in doing so it actually protects the already established machinery of discrimination.”

Cites John Stuart Mill on tolerance, that it was “to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties”, and this applied to people whose views and practices were regarded as barbarian. Marcuse aims to apply this to the political right.

Marcuse’s view rests on some baked-in assumptions that you must hold to be true if you are to buy into it:

. American government and society are oppressive and unjustly discriminatory as a matter of pattern and practice.

. That a lot of people naturally accept what is established uncritically.

. That gradual reforms and changes only serve to reinforce the system and therefore cannot be genuinely good.

. Only revolution can bring about true tolerance.

. That true and false solutions can be found to problems in society through “theory and practice” (praxis) and that what they provide us with, “certainty of a reasonable chance, and with the persuasive force of the negative”, is sufficient justification for suppressing views that are opposite.

The moral certainty of the left exists on a policy course because they perceive a “reasonable chance” of a desired outcome and that the opposite end they know is wrong. This can justify many a questionable policy at best provided such policy has the aim working against a bad end. Those who would question or oppose said means to a good end or at least not a bad end should be regarded as agents of the bad end and must be countered with viewpoint suppression. The notion of any good motives is thereby dismissed out of hand as irrelevant.

“Tolerance of free speech is the way of improvement, of progress in liberation, not because there is no objective truth, and improvement must necessarily be a compromise between a variety of opinions, but because there is an objective truth which can be discovered, ascertained only in learning and comprehending that which is and that which can be and ought to be done for the sake of improving the lot of mankind.”

There are several problems with this essay so far: the first is that an assumption exists that there is a “reasonable chance” that we can reach a utopian existence. The second is that for policies of the Left there is at heart the notion of certainty, or, shall we say, hubris. Marcuse seems close to this realization when he cites Mill’s examples of truth that were brutally suppressed in their time, yet dismisses it by stating that the “evaluation is ex post, and his list includes opposites (Savonarola too would have burned Fra Dolcino). Even the ex post evaluation is contestable as to its truth: history corrects the judgment – too late.” This is exactly why it is important to have political tolerance! You don’t 100% know who is going to be right! Neither Savonarola nor Fra Dolcino should have faced church and state mandated suppression. The course of strong tolerance of speech may not be a perfect solution to society’s problems and some bad ideas may prevail in the short run over good ones, but it is the safest course, for with the alternatives we risk suppression of truth to fulfill political aims…or should I say, mandated political correctness?

Marcuse believes that it is certain that the Left has the objectively right answers and he is certain of it as a certain type of Marxist. This essay effectively requires you to be a Marxist of some sort to be on board with his solutions and thus to be in the free speech club that a Marcusean future would bring.

Tolerance toward majorities shift under a Marcusean revolution.

Notes that unless violence and violent subversive organization are pushed dissent is tolerated, and therein lives the false assumption that society is free and that positive change would come about in said system through discussion. This strikes me as a strange argument since many governments throughout the world see no need for such inconveniences as freedom of speech in attaining oppressive ends.

Marcuse holds that there is a premise hidden, and that is that it is “rational expression and development of independent thinking, free from indoctrination, manipulation, and extraneous authority. The notion of pluralism and countervailing powers is no substitute for this requirement”.  He finds that any notion of tolerance is a lie if powers in society in conflict are unequal and thus can and do suppress available alternatives. He phrases these conflicts in the Hegelian sense: labor vs. management, producer vs. consumer, intellectual vs. employer. Marcuse complains that neutrality in speech results in a forum in which stupidity and intelligence, falsity and truth, and ignorance and information get equal time. He additionally writes, “This pure toleration of sense and nonsense is justified by the democratic argument that nobody, neither group nor individual, is in possession of the truth and capable of defining what is right and wrong, good and bad. Therefore, all contesting opinions must be submitted to ‘the people’ for its deliberation and choice. But I have already suggested that the democratic argument implies a necessary condition, namely, that the people must be capable of deliberating and choosing on the basis of knowledge, that they must have access to authentic information, and that, on this basis, their evaluation must be the result of autonomous thought.”

Once again, the notion of certainty rears its head and Marcuse seems to think that people should not be given the choice between the “right” and the “wrong” option for fear they will pick the “wrong” option out of ignorance or misinformation. Marcuse ironically sounds close to James Madison and the Federalists in his view about an educated public participating in politics, however he seems to have a distinct idea about what “authentic information” is and what “autonomous thought” would mean. The former term is value-laden and highly subjective (what constitutes authentic?), and the latter seems to mean, given the orientation of his essay, thought produced outside the influences of the current system, ergo the current system must go for a true tolerance-based society to exist.

The public, Marcuse believes, cannot be trusted here if they are under the sway of the powerful and their interests. Certainly, he would feel justified in his view of the stupid and intelligent viewpoints getting equal time had he lived to see the rise in public visibility of InfoWars given the rise of social media and its head, Alex Jones, getting praise from the President of the United States. The problem is that there are solutions that the left has provided for problems that turned out to be pretty disastrous, such as rent control, which now has such a poor reputation among economists given its results that 81% agreed that it does more harm than good as a policy. That is a tough consensus to get in that notoriously divided field. Does this matter to certain big city governments and Marcuse? No, because being for rent control is thought of as working towards a good end, the interest of the oppressed in the form of the tenant, as opposed to the bad end of the interest of the oppressor, in the form of the landlord. To Marcuse, public debate serves an end, and this end is to his view of tolerance. Public debate is not actually an end in itself.

Being of a Marxist mindset, Marcuse assumes that the basis of relationships in society is conflict and not cooperation to mutual ends, hence the Hegelian nature of the thought of the Frankfurt School to which Marcuse subscribed. He holds that neutralizing the news is detrimental to the public good as a neutral presentation is, in his view, more likely to favor what is established and can serve to mute issues in which righteous moral outrage is called for, thus neutral presentation has an establishment bias.

Marcuse clarifies that “totalitarian democracy”, as he puts it, is no doubt a softer system than a dictatorship which sacrifices liberties in the present in the name of the future. He has outlined his problems with the current system, so he proposes some solutions.

Marcuse holds that there should be no barriers to the potential of establishing a “subversive majority” and that removing barriers that consist of repression and indoctrination “may require apparently undemocratic means”. He lists examples of activities that are to be regarded as intolerable:

. Promotion of military engagement and armament, no Cold Warriors or War on Terror people need apply.

. Scientific research into military weapons for the purpose of “deterrence” and human experimentation.

. Chauvinism.

. Race or religion based discrimination.

. Opposing the extension of public services, social security, & medical care.

He denies these are value-preferences, rather that they are rational criteria. At best, they are both. At worst, they are value-preferences masquerading as rational criteria.

Marcuse wishes to counter establishment indoctrination with rigid restrictions on educational practice to open closed minds. This, according to him, can be self-enforced by teachers and students in universities. Marcuse holds that further than this requires a full-scale societal movement that constitutes an upheaval. He states that there is tolerance from consumers and laborers for the repressive practices of enterprise, hence the difficulty of pulling off anything but revolution to pull off complete tolerance. This sounds like another way of saying indoctrination to me. When it comes to speech regulations, I state that the problem is the question of who is to decide what constitutes acceptable speech, and Marcuse has taken it upon himself to be the decider and the decider of who decides. In other words, who shall rule us and set the terms of what is acceptable for debate.

Marcuse writes that the weak are both lectured to about violence and made to suffer it and it gets excused as necessity. I would ask who is considered “weak” in this scenario. Is a violent criminal being apprehended by the police considered weak?

Marcuse holds there is a moral difference between violence from oppressed and violence from oppressors, as violence from the oppressed is defensive and violence from oppressors is aggressive. He holds that the oppressed being exhorted to engage in non-violence and following it furthers the cause of violence. He quotes Sartre, who politically identified as a communist, to back his point: “Understand finally this: if violence were to begin this evening, if neither exploitation nor oppression had ever existed in the world, perhaps concerted non-violence could relieve the conflict. But if the whole governmental system and your non-violent thoughts are conditioned by a thousand-year-old oppression, your passivity only serves to place you on the side of the oppressors.” Neutrality, per Marcuse and Sartre, is no option, in fact it makes you the enemy. This brings to my mind former President Bush’s line of being with or against America on terrorism and the negative reception that it met on the left. If they are to buy Marcuse’s arguments, then their objection to Bush is not in the rigidity of the statement, it lies in his perspective.

Marcuse holds that rationality and empiricism can be used to determine true and false and that “the real possibilities of human freedom are relative to the attained stage of civilization. They depend on the material and intellectual resources available at the respective stage, and they are quantifiable and calculable to a high degree.” He holds that this requires in modern society the distribution of resources according to need (thus consistent with Marxist principles) and a minimum of “toil” and “injustice”. Now, here’s the real clincher, coming right up:

“…it is possible to define the direction in which prevailing institutions, policies, opinions would have to be changed in order to improve the chance of a peace which is not identical with cold war and a little hot war, and a satisfaction of needs which does not feed on poverty, oppression, and exploitation. Consequently, it is also possible to identify policies, opinions, movements which would promote this chance, and those which would do the opposite. Suppression of the regressive ones is a prerequisite for the strengthening of the progressive ones.” Marcuse holds that the people capable of making the decisions are those who are, per Mill, in the “maturity of (their) faculties”. Maturity of faculties for him is not a minimum constant of mental and moral capacity, but a sliding scale upwards as civilization moves forth.

Marcuse’s motivation for writing this essay partly lies in his past: as a German leftist he is haunted by the inability of he and his comrades to stop the rise of Hitler, and he reflects on how the speeches of the Nazis were the prelude to violence. Marcuse is of the belief that they could have been stopped through speech suppression, and that such a course would have possibly averted World War II and the Holocaust. He claimed that the present in his time, 1965, constituted “clear and present danger” and that the assumptions underlying a democratic society are not actually present, and thus it logically follows that suspension of right to free speech and free assembly should occur. This is most ironic to me given that quite a lot of movement politically was being made to the left in the time of his writing in the United States with LBJ’s Great Society programs, although Marcuse would probably consider those reforms merely intended to uphold an oppressive capitalist system. The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War likely weighed heavier on Marcuse’s mind. The German people themselves, through their government, have bought into this idea given their criminalization of Nazi speech and the displaying of its party’s symbols. Far more questionable, however, is whether this would have actually worked and even Marcuse himself writes of it as only a chance to stop it. The state of German society during the Weimar Republic was ripe for some strong changemaker to rise up, and especially so after the onset of the Great Depression…Marcuse’s lament seems to be that it wasn’t a Marxist changemaker. People in German society would have still held anti-Versailles Treaty feelings and there still would have been anti-Semitic under and overtones. If not Hitler, it would have likely been someone else authoritarian…whether better or worse than him is, like Marcuse’s perception of chance, unknowable.

There is one respect in which I agree with Marcuse: the American government and the American people are not one and the same in spirit or in deed. However, I think it is impossible that such a system can exist when the population exceeds a few hundred and the population becomes diverse in thought and background. I recall reading Hannah Arendt in graduate school and she brought up the Mayflower Compact as an example of how a pure democracy could function, but she didn’t account for how this came to an end: they opted for representative government only a few years into the colony as the population grew. This pure, radical egalitarian democratic utopia that these Frankfurt schoolers seem to think is possible has no chance of succeeding and has a certain chance through action in causing tremendous misery. Different flavors of Marxism have been tried around the world and they have, without fail, produced not merely downturns in economic prosperity and human rights, but utter catastrophes. The Holodomor, Gulag slave labor, The Great Leap Forward, The Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s reduction of his people by a quarter through agrarian socialism, North Vietnamese reeducation camps, etc. Listing these may seem unfair to Bernie Bro types, but the notion that someday this ideology that operates counter to human nature can be gotten right if only the proper people were at the helm and employed “scientific” methods is naïve hubris at best. In the quest to create heaven on Earth, hell follows. Marcuse considered separate and competing powers insufficient to fulfill representation by the people and indeed they are not a perfect measure, but they are the best course for limiting the tyranny that lives in human consciousness and he and I have a fundamental disagreement on the role of democracy in governance.

Overall, it strikes me that Marcuse hides behind “rationality” and “empiricism” for his distinctions of true and false tolerance, but the point that stands out to me is that we don’t know 100% at this time…there may be things we all agree on as a society that turn out to be mistaken.

In Marcuse’s long and seemingly complex essay in fact lies a message most simple: left good by definition, right bad by definition, and behavior from the left must be tolerated while behavior from the right must not. This essay is, in truth, for a target audience, and it isn’t Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary American. It is for Marxists aiming to change a lot of what Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary American think. If you do not hold Marxist viewpoints and assumptions you will not be persuaded by this essay and will view it (rightfully so) as a call for ending your freedom of speech until you are sufficiently indoctrinated into Marcuse’s ideology or at least something close to it on the left.

Unfortunately for people on the right, the idea well for the term that comes easiest to mind for what Marcuse is pushing is poisoned: the term “Cultural Marxism” has Nazi origins and thus is unfortunately precluded from use by people who want to retain respectability while battling this ideology. Jordan Peterson has helpfully suggested another term, “postmodern Neo-Marxism”. The right must be wary of this “postmodern Neo-Marxism”, as it is the militant thinking that lies behind the New Left efforts to silence and push them out of the Overton Window.

This essay brings to my mind two choice quotes, one from a writer and another from a politician:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” – C.S. Lewis

“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.” – Gerald Ford


Marcuse, H. (1965). Repressive Tolerance.

Retrieved from



Thomas Brackett Reed: The Man Who Remade the House


I was originally going to write a piece about Herbert Marcuse, but I refuse to write about a Marxist on my birthday, so instead I will cover a successful Republican Speaker of the House who changed how the institution operated. Last year I covered J. Warren Keifer, the one-term Speaker of the House who had a disastrous run, and I stated that his successor in party leadership, Thomas Brackett Reed (1839-1902), would be for another post. This is it.

Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine was elected to Congress in the most contentious year of 1876, when the partisans clashed over the results, which gave Hayes more electoral votes but gave Tilden the most popular votes. Reed took part in the investigations of the election and managed to uncover information that implicated Tilden’s nephew in corruption. As a new member of Congress he saw a problem with the lower chamber not present in the Maine legislature: it was far too easy for the minority to block legislation. They could merely not acknowledge their presence or refuse to vote to deny a quorum (half of all members plus one required to conduct business), and this struck Reed as ineffective government. However, the time period in which Reed was elected was a time of divided government: while the GOP controlled the Senate most of the time, the same was true with the Democrats and the House. He was a staunch pro-business conservative who supported hard money, the gold standard, tariffs, and internal improvements (hearkening back to the Whig position for furthering commerce). Reed also became known as a public intellectual and for his extraordinary debating skills. Although the GOP had control of the House in the 47th Congress (1881-1883), Speaker Keifer lacked the leadership skills to end the House filibuster.  The House GOP, recognizing Reed’s talent, selected him to lead the House party after their defeat in the 1882 midterm elections. The 1888 elections would provide Reed with his time in the sun: government was unified under the Republican Party, and he was now Speaker.

Congress Under Reed: Rules Reform and Spend the Surplus!

President Grover Cleveland left office with a situation that would be ideal for many politicians today: a budget surplus. The Republicans of that day liked neither high debt nor surplus so under the similarly corpulent Reed (he was 6’3” and weighed around 300 lbs.) they opted to spend the surplus on expanding Union veterans pensions and expanding the navy, which resulted in Democrats criticizing them as the “billion dollar Congress” for what they regarded as wastefully spending the surplus. He also tried to get voting rights protections passed for Southern blacks, but the effort failed in the Senate. Reed’s most significant and lasting achievement as Speaker was the elimination of the disappearing quorum. In the last Congress, there had been an excessive number of votes to establish quorum and he was sick of it. The Republican majority in the 51st Congress was slim and only three Republican absences could happen at a time for business to occur, a task that was becoming impossible to meet. Although Reed had employed the disappearing quorum when he was in the minority, on January 29, 1890, as Speaker he announced in the vote on the Jackson vs. Smith election contest in West Virginia, “The Chair directs the Clerk to record the following names of members present and refusing to vote” (Tuchman). The minority Democrats howled, some hid under their desks to avoid being counted, and Congressman Constantine “Buck” Kilgore of Texas kicked the locked door of the House open to flee. When Kentucky Democrat James McCreary contested the counting of him as present, Speaker Reed retorted, “The Chair is making a statement of the fact that the gentleman from Kentucky is present, does he deny it? (Tuchman)” His act even led one Democrat, William Bynum of Indiana, to denounce “the arbitrary, the outrageous, the damnable rulings of the Chair”, resulting in his censure for unparliamentary language (Tuchman).

Although pandemonium was occurring in the House and Democratic minority members hurled invective at him, Reed managed to contain his anger and calmly make it happen. Reed’s Rules were now established, which eliminated the disappearing quorum and ensured control of the Rules Committee by the majority party. The 51st Congress proved to be the most productive one in many years and Democrats resented this, referring to him as “Czar Reed” for establishing majority rule in the House. When the Democrats won back the House in 1890, they originally scrapped Reed’s rules as they had a great enough majority to ensure a quorum, but he made use of the disappearing quorum on them in the 53rd Congress when their majority was reduced and they quietly reinstated the rules they had objected to so much. He had established the principle of party responsibility when in the majority, and House majorities since then have been held to it.

In 1894, the nation was in a depression and Democrats faced their single worst House midterm ever, losing 116 seats, double what they lost in the Tea Party election of 2010. Reed was back in the Speaker’s chair and triumphant. In 1896, Reed sought the nomination for president, but he suffered no fools and the Republicans wanted someone more agreeable…William McKinley. After the 1896 elections, government was unified under the Republicans again and Reed worked to pass Republican legislative priorities, including the institution of the gold standard and the Dingley Tariff. In 1898, he was eager to avoid war with Spain and worked with the McKinley Administration to prevent it, but when McKinley flipped on the issue, Reed did not and resigned the House in protest to the war and expansionary policy. In his career, he had set the stage for an even more powerful Speaker, his colleague and ally Joe Cannon of Illinois, who, like Reed, was accused of ruling the House as a dictator.


Thomas Brackett Reed was the right man, in the right place, at the right time as Speaker. He was tough and didn’t let immense pressure from the opposition impact his decision-making. Only a man with the iron constitution of Reed could have pulled off his rules reform, a man who was willing to risk all (Reed would have resigned had he failed) for a monumental achievement. Had William McKinley of Ohio prevailed over Reed in the 1888 contest for Speaker, the reform would not have happened in the session as he would have overly fretted about what people thought of him. Thomas Brackett Reed stands as one of the most talented Speakers the country has ever known.

P.S.: The Quotable Speaker Reed

Thomas Brackett Reed was known for his wit and profound observations, all but two are from Quotetab:

“One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation.”

“They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.” – On the Democrats.

“They could do worse, and they undoubtedly will” (Conlin, 620). – On whether the Republican Party would nominate him for president in 1896.

“If human progress had been merely a matter of leadership we should be in Utopia today.”

“One, with God, is always a majority, but many a martyr has been burned at the stake while the votes were being counted.”

“It is a very lonely life that a man leads, who becomes aware of truths before their times.”

“All the wisdom of the world consists of shouting with the majority.”

“A statesman is a successful politician who is dead.”

“The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch.”

“The only justification for rebellion is success.”

“The reason why the race of man moves slowly is because it must move all together.”

“Politics is mostly pill-taking.”

“The gentleman need not be disturbed – he will never be either.” – In response to Democratic colleague William Springer of Illinois, who quoted Henry Clay in that he would rather be right than be president.

“No, but I approve of it” (Conlin, 620). – When asked by reporters if he would attend the funeral of one of his critics.


Conlin, J.R. (2012). The American past: A survey of American history. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Thomas Reed Quotations. Quotetab.

Retrieved from


Tuchman, B.W. (December 1962). Czar Of The House. American Heritage, 14(1).

Retrieved from




MC-Index Scores of People I Have Profiled

To be honest, today I’m not feeling so high-energy so its gonna be an easy post for me. This time I will do MC-Index scores of people I have profiled thus far. I will include a short descriptor of them as this goes back two years into postings. This is no particular order:


Louis T. McFadden, Pennsylvania – Antisemitic conspiracy theorist. – 86%

Oscar De Priest, Illinois – First black Congressman in the 20th century. – 75%

Lyman Trumbull, Illinois – Co-drafter of 13th Amendment. – 38%

John McCain, Arizona – People know who he is. – 81%

Jeff Flake, Arizona – Senator, libertarian-leaning conservative, Trump critic. – 94%

H.R. Gross, Iowa – Penny-pinching Congressman, opposed eternal flame for JFK. – 90%

Barry Goldwater, Arizona – Presidential candidate, 1964, major conservative figure. – 95%

John J. Williams, Delaware – Senator, known for honesty and corruption investigations. – 95%

Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Massachusetts – Senator and diplomat, GOP VP candidate in 1960. – 62%

Henry Cabot Lodge Sr., Massachusetts – Senator, fought Woodrow Wilson on Versailles Treaty. – 91%

J. Warren Keifer, Ohio – Speaker of the House, 1881-83. – 86%

Tom Coburn, Oklahoma – Representative and senator, known fiscal hawk. – 98%

Dewey Short, Missouri – Congressman, master orator, and leading foe of universal military training. – 94%

William McCulloch, Ohio – Congressman and civil rights advocate. – 87%

Thomas B. Curtis, Missouri – Congressman, economic expert, and a leading foe of Medicare. – 85%

James B. Utt, California – Orange County’s Congressman. – 97%

James G. Blaine, Maine – GOP presidential candidate, 1884. –  78%

Hiram Bingham III, Connecticut – Famous explorer who rediscovered Machu Picchu and senator. – 95%

Wes Cooley, Oregon – Congressman convicted of lying to voters. – 98%

James S. Sherman, New York – Vice President under Taft, leading House conservative. – 95%

John Sherman, Ohio – Senator, Secretary of the Treasury, and Secretary of State. – 77%

Matthew Quay, Pennsylvania –  Senator and GOP boss of Pennsylvania. – 68%

John P. Jones, Nevada – Senator, known for advocacy of silver. – 54%

William M. Stewart, Nevada – Senator, drafted 15th Amendment. – 66%

Thruston B. Morton, Kentucky – Senator, head of the RNC. – 64%

John Sherman Cooper, Kentucky – Senator, Vietnam War dove. – 41%

Jacob Thorkelson, Montana – One-term wonder and fascist dupe. – 81%

Jeanette Rankin, Montana – First woman to serve in Congress, voted against both world wars. – 55%

Robert A. Taft, Ohio –  Leader, Senate Republican side of Conservative Coalition. – 86%

Robert Taft Jr., Ohio – Son of Robert A. Taft, far more moderate. – 61%

Bourke Hickenlooper, Iowa –  Senator, known for opposition to public power and foreign expropriation of American businesses. – 87%

Henry Hatfield, West Virginia – Senator, member of the Hatfield clan. – 84%

James W. Wadsworth, Jr., New York – Senator and representative, leading foe of women’s suffrage and prohibition amendments. – 92%

Florence Kahn, California – First Jewish woman to serve in Congress, known for her wit, support of the FBI, and advocacy of military preparedness. – 79%

Edith Rogers, Massachusetts – First woman to serve in Congress from Massachusetts, known for advocacy of veterans issues. – 72%

Joe Martin, Massachusetts – Leader of the House GOP, 1939-59, Speaker of the House, 1947-49, 1953-55. – 79%

Hamilton Fish III, New York – Representative, known for his staunch opposition to FDR’s domestic and foreign policy. – 83%

George V. Hansen, Idaho – Representative, tried to initiate his own negotiations in the Iranian Hostage Crisis, had ethics issues. – 97%

George H.W. Bush, Texas – Representative, CIA director, VP, and President. – 85%

Richard F. Pettigrew, South Dakota – First senator from South Dakota, switched parties and became pro-communist later in life. – 16%

Fred Dubios, Idaho – Served two Senate terms, one as a Republican and one as a Democrat. Known for his relentless antipathy to Mormons. – 19%

Vito Marcantonio, New York – Republican, then American Labor Party Congressman. Communist fellow-traveler. – 13%

Thomas Schall, Minnesota – Representative and senator, blind, and known for his prickly attitude to FDR. – 57%

Hiram Johnson, California – VP candidate on the Bull Moose ticket in 1912, senator, opposed entry into the UN. – 60%

Manuel Herrick, Oklahoma – Mentally ill representative who believed himself the second coming of Christ. – 40%

Ignatius Donnelly, Minnesota – Futurist, party-switcher, and crackpot. – 64%


James L. Buckley, New York – Brother of William F. Buckley Jr., only member of New York’s Conservative Party to serve in the Senate. – 92%


Victor Berger, Wisconsin – Prosecuted for sedition during wartime, verdict overturned by the Supreme Court. – 24%

Meyer London, New York – Voted against American entry into World War I. –  11%


John T. Bernard, Minnesota – Representative, secret member of the Communist Party. –  6%


James A. Haley, Florida – Imprisoned for involuntary manslaughter for negligence regarding the Hartford Circus Fire before he was elected to Congress. – 86%

Thomas P. Gore, Oklahoma – Blind senator, known for his opposition to wartime suppression of civil liberties and later the New Deal. – 33%

Robert F. Wagner, New York – Senator and New Deal brain truster, sponsor of Wagner Labor Act and Social Security. – 14%

David J. Lewis, Maryland – Representative, leading advocate of Social Security. – 15%

Maury Maverick, Texas – Representative, staunch supporter of the New Deal, coined “gobbledygook”, term “maverick” comes from his family, and only Texas Democrat to vote for an anti-lynching bill. – 9%

Richard Ichord, Missouri – Representative, the last chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee. – 69%

Mary T. Norton, New Jersey – Representative, first woman elected to Congress from the state, notable for sponsoring the Fair Labor Standards Act. – 13%

Pat McCarran, Nevada – Senator, notable for anti-communist and immigration restriction legislation. – 51%

Benjamin Wood, New York – Representative and owner of the New York Daily News, which was notoriously anti-black and sympathetic to the Confederacy. – 58%

Fernando Wood, New York – Representative and Mayor of New York City, known for his sympathies to the Confederacy and opposition to the end of slavery. – 43%

George Vest, Missouri – Senator, known for his “eulogy of the dog” speech and probably coined the phrase, “history is written by the victors”. – 10%

Carter Glass, Virginia – Representative, senator, Secretary of the Treasury, and Father of the Federal Reserve. – 37%

Herman Talmadge, Georgia – Senator, Governor of Georgia, staunch segregationist, and member of the Watergate Committee. – 66%

John J. Sparkman, Alabama –  Senator, 1952 candidate for VP. – 31%

Sam Ervin, North Carolina – Senator, headed Watergate Committee, known for folksy demeanor and attention to Constitutional issues. – 69%

Jerry J. O’Connell, Montana – Representative, Communist fellow-traveler. – 7%

James Eastland, Mississippi – Senator, leading advocate for retention of Jim Crow. –  70%

John C. Stennis, Mississippi – Senator, known for his advocacy of naval expansion. – 65%

Benjamin G. Harris, Maryland – Representative, known for his friendliness to the Confederacy. – 20%

Lloyd Bentsen, Texas – Representative, senator, and last moderate Democrat VP candidate. – 44%

John H. Reagan, Texas – Representative and senator, advocate of regulation of railroads. – 9%

John Tyler Morgan, Alabama – Senator, white supremacist, advocate for annexation of Hawaii and building an inter-oceanic canal in Central America. –  29%

Sam Stratton, New York – Representative, survived all GOP efforts to redistrict him out of a job, staunch anti-communist. – 35%

James A. Reed, Missouri – Senator, progressive, and opponent of the Versailles Treaty and Prohibition. – 18%

David I. Walsh, Massachusetts – Senator, opponent of American intervention in World War II. – 38%

Emanuel Celler, New York – Representative, leading advocate of immigration liberalization, sponsored Hart-Celler Act in 1965. – 7%

Robert Byrd, West Virginia – Representative, senator, served the longest as senator. –  29%

James M. Curley, Massachusetts – Representative, Governor of Massachusetts, Mayor of Boston, notoriously scheming and corrupt. – 25%

Adam Clayton Powell, New York – First black representative from New York, proposed Powell Amendments for school desegregation, also known for corruption and absenteeism. –  6%

Hugh De Lacy, Washington – Representative and secret communist. – 0%

Phillip Burton, California – Representative, the most powerful ultra-liberal Democrat in the House. – 2%

Harold Hughes, Iowa – Senator, overcame alcoholism and depression to have a successful political career. – 4%

William H. Meyer, Vermont – First Democrat elected to the House from Vermont since before the Civil War, a founder of the socialist Liberty Union Party where Bernie Sanders got his political start. –  6%

James M. Curley: King Rogue of Boston


Today urban centers are known as Democratic strongholds, but it wasn’t always this way. Some were at one time competitive, such as Boston, that is, until the rise of James Michael Curley (1874-1958). He got his start in politics in the city’s ward politics in 1899 and in 1901 he was elected to the state legislature. Curley simultaneously served as chair of Ward 17 in Boston, establishing the Tammany Club to further his political interests and aid poor constituents. He managed to secure 700 patronage positions but, in the process, he was convicted of fraud for taking a civil service exam for a constituent to get him a job as a postman and sentenced to sixty days in jail, the time he spent reading books. Curley was elected to Boston’s board of aldermen in 1903 while in jail with the campaign slogan, “he did it for a friend”. In 1910, Curley wanted to run for Mayor, but JFK’s grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, wanted to return to the post, so he struck a deal with Curley: if he agreed to run for Congress instead, Fitzgerald would only serve a single term. However, Fitzgerald went back on the promise and Curley in turn blackmailed him, threatening to expose an affair with a significantly younger cigarette girl. Exit Fitzgerald, enter Curley.

In January 1914 Curley took office as Mayor of Boston, beginning his long reign of influence in the city. His Yankee demonizing, tax raising (especially property), free spending, and grafting ways resulted in many Yankees moving out of Boston, thus further securing his control over the city. He nearly bankrupted the city with his excessive building of parks and hospitals for his poor ethnic constituencies and the patronage jobs he doled out could be merely welfare by another name for how much work was actually performed. Despite his rough and tumble politics, Curley had a bit of a taste for the finer things and often quoted Shakespeare in his speeches. In 1917, he was defeated for reelection as a result of the machinations of Boston West End boss Martin Lomasney, who recruited another Irish candidate to take votes from Curley, resulting in the election of fellow Democrat Andrew J. Peters. In response to his term as mayor, the state legislature in 1918 passed legislation prohibiting Boston mayors from holding consecutive terms. In 1921, he was again elected Mayor of Boston after a bruising and close campaign filled with campaign tricks, including having “…young supporters knock on doors at midnight in Irish South Boston, pretending to be members of a Baptist Church club canvassing for the other guy. He planted hecklers who knew how to take a punch, which he’d deliver like Tom Mix” (Hiestand & Zellman, 111). Curley even bribed a KKK organizer known as the Black Pope $2000 to campaign against him. On his return as mayor he would continue expensive, graft-filled projects by raising taxes, borrowing money, and threatening action against any banks that were reluctant to lend.

In 1924, Curley ran for governor and with a strange regularity crosses would be burning in the hills when he would make a speech as he traveled across Massachusetts, supposedly signaling vigorous Klan opposition to an aspiring Irish Catholic politician. He would respond with defiance in his speeches, in one instance proclaiming, “If any Klansmen wish to meet us on the dark and lonely road, they are welcome to make the attempt” (Hiestand & Zellman, 111).  Of course, it turned out that the “Klansmen” were Curley’s men as he admitted in his autobiography. In 1925, Curley had a problem for his power, as the 1918 law was still in effect and he didn’t want another Democrat possibly competing with him for power as mayor. Thus, he stuffed ballots with Irish names for the Republican candidate, WASP Malcolm Nichols, who to this day is the last Republican Mayor of Boston. Elected again in 1929, Curley continued his ways, building public works at inflated contracts so he could line his pockets. He erred in his appointment of his corrupt and wealthy neighbor Edmond Dolan as city treasurer, who simultaneously on the downlow headed the Mohawk Packing Company and the Legal Securities Corporation. The former was contracted with to provide meat for Boston’s city facilities at prices 1/3 higher than market rate and the latter was a firm that bought and sold municipal bonds, which Dolan used to buy bonds from and sell bonds to Boston and collect fees on each transaction. On one occasion, he “reaped a huge reward when a private contractor on city work accidentally flooded the basement of a General Equipment building. General Equipment’s insurance offered to settle with the city for a $20,000 payment, but the amount listed on the settlement was for $85,000. The Finance Commission found that the insurance company had collected $20,000” (Leinwand, 225).

The growing scandal of graft combined with the deaths of his wife and son led Curley to take a tour of Europe with his daughter Mary, her friend, and Dolan so investigators wouldn’t be talking to him. Curley and his group met up with numerous high-ranking officials, most notably Pope Pius XI (who gave the group gifts) and Benito Mussolini. The latter and Curley got on quite well as both were pompous egomaniacs, and Curley praised Mussolini after the meeting, stating that he had never met a leader “who was more profoundly interested in the welfare of his people; the progress and prosperity of his country” (Leinwald, 225). This trip didn’t keep Dolan out of prison, however, as he was caught trying to bribe the jury and was sentenced to 2 ½ years.

In 1932, Curley announced that he was for Franklin D. Roosevelt, an abandonment of his previous support for fellow Catholic Al Smith. The Democratic leadership in Massachusetts was fully for Smith, and Governor Joseph B. Ely denied him a spot at the Democratic National Convention. Curley, however, had a solution: he arranged instead to serve as the chair of the delegation to Puerto Rico under the alias “Alcalde Jaime Miguel Curleo” and announced the territory’s six votes for FDR in a pseudo Spanish accent. In the early years of the New Deal, Boston received a huge share of federal funds for public projects, and naturally a large portion of the money would be pocketed by Curley. He had hoped that he would get an appointment as Secretary of the Navy or Ambassador to Italy or France based on promises from the Roosevelts, but when Roosevelt ultimately declined and offered him Poland, Curley reportedly responded, “If it is such a goddam interesting place, why don’t you resign the Presidency and take it yourself?” (Russell, 1959)

In 1934, Curley ran for Governor of Massachusetts to stay out of the penitentiary for his acts as mayor, and he won. On his way in, he got into a shoving match with nemesis and outgoing Governor Joseph B. Ely. Now he had the power to whitewash any investigations into graft by firing or bribing old members of the Boston Finance Commission and stacking it with his cronies, and instead turn investigations to his opponents. In 1935, his first year as governor, he was invited as a matter of course to Harvard’s commencement, and when he showed up, he appeared in “silk stockings, knee britches, a powdered wig, and a three-cornered hat with flowing plume” (Epps). When he was met with objections by the university marshals, he pulled out the Statutes of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which defined proper dress for this occasion and proclaimed himself the only properly dressed person.

Curley’s tenure proved a nearly unmitigated disaster for his profligate spending on public works projects and corruption. Although he claimed to voters that he brought home federal money for projects, many of his requests failed as FDR and his New Dealers had a low opinion of him. Curley also, like Huey Long in Louisiana, wielded power like a dictator, which led to people accusing him of being an “Irish Mussolini”. He tried to undermine an independent judiciary in the state in his attempt to pass a law that would require all state judges 70 and older to appear before a board of psychiatrists and elected officials headed by Curley himself to determine senility. Rather appropriately, as governor he sat in the chair that Benito Mussolini had gifted him. However, there were limits to what he could do: in 1936 he ran for the Senate but lost to Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the only Democratic Senate seat to go Republican in that election.

Curley’s next few years were met with defeats, most notably his effort at being elected governor again in 1938, but in 1942 he decided to return to Congress after nearly thirty years of absence. He faced off against incumbent Democrat Thomas Eliot, a New Dealer and WASP, and red-baited him: “There is more Americanism in one half of Jim Curley’s ass than in that pink body of Tom Eliot” (Goldman).  Despite Curley’s historical hostility to Yankee voters, he managed to win many of their votes in this election. In 1944, he won reelection. In November 1945, Curley was once again elected Mayor of Boston despite being under indictment for mail fraud. In 1946, he was almost certainly bought off by Joseph P. Kennedy to vacate his House seat so his son, John, could run. The following year, he was convicted of said mail fraud and served five months in prison, in the meantime the city was run by acting mayor John B. Hynes, who had been a city clerk. Curley promptly publicly insulted him upon his return, stating “I have accomplished more in one day than has been done in the five months of my absence” (Colleran, 2014). Hynes decided to run against Curley in 1949 and defeated him. Although he attempted a comeback in 1953, voters were appreciating the graft-free government of Hynes and thus Curley’s career finally came to an end. Despite his terrible reputation among Massachusetts’ WASPs, when he died in 1958 he remained beloved by many of his target constituencies and thousands showed up for his funeral.

“The Curley Effect”

In 2005, Edward L. Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer of Harvard University wrote a paper, “The Curley Effect: The Economics of Shaping the Electorate”, on Curley’s political behavior, stating that he “used wasteful redistribution to his poor Irish constituents and incendiary rhetoric to encourage richer citizens to emigrate from Boston, thereby shaping the electorate in his favor. As a consequence, Boston stagnated, but Curley kept winning elections” (Glaeser & Shleifer, 2005). This approach turns the traditional ideas of democratic politics on its head, that instead of voters voting for people with the best policies that increase wealth, Democratic politicians influence the makeup of the electorate with policy that makes the city poorer and while employing class warfare rhetoric to blame the rich instead of government policies and results in the poor rallying to them. This has been practiced in other places as well, including Detroit with Coleman Young and it can be argued that it is being practiced in California as well. By a tremendous stroke of irony, the same group of Irish Catholic voters fled Boston starting in the 1970s in response to deeply unpopular school busing policies, “some to escape a growing black population, others to fulfill a dream of lawns. They migrated to the South Shore, as the Yankees before them, fleeing their Irish ancestors, had to the North, their politics changing with their address” (Hiestand & Zellman, 118).


Colleran, W. (2014, October 2). Providence can learn from Boston’s Mayor James Michael Curley. Providence Journal.

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Glaeser, E.L. & Shleifer, A. (2005). The Curley Effect: The Economics of Shaping the Electorate. The Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, 21(1).

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Goldman, S. (2014, November 24). Marion Barry: D.C.’s Rascal King. The American Conservative.

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Marion Barry: D.C.’s Rascal King

Hiestand, E. & Zellman, A. The good city: Writers explore 21st century Boston. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Leinwand, G. (2004). Mackerels in the moonlight: Four corrupt American mayors. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Russell, F. (June 1959). The Last Of The Bosses. American Heritage, 10(4).

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Tom Coburn, RIP

In this Dec. 17, 2013 file photo, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a longtime deficit hawk, outlines his annual "Wastebook" which points a critical finger at billions of dollars in questionable government spending during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. On March 28, 2020, Mr. Coburn's family released a statement noting the former senator has passed away. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

On March 28, 2020, former Senator Tom Coburn passed into history at 72. I was sad to see him leave on account of his final illness in 2015 and from his mortal coil five years later, as I think he was one of the greatest men to have served in the House and Senate.

From a young age, Coburn struggled with health: at the age of 28 he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma so dire he was given a 1 in 5 chance of living. His successful struggle against cancer gave him the courage to act in what he knew was right, and a part of this was changing his career path to become a doctor. In 1994, Coburn was part of the Republican Revolution, being elected to Oklahoma’s 2nd district, at the time Democratic territory that hadn’t elected a Republican since Alice Robertson became the second woman elected to Congress in 1920. A firm believer in the Contract with America, Coburn sought to hold his colleagues accountable to stay with these proposals, which ultimately, they didn’t always do. He was one of those politicians to become known as “Dr. No” (the late Durward G. Hall of Missouri and Ron Paul of Texas also got this honorable title) for being a doctor and for consistently voting against spending bills. Coburn also became known for his activism on AIDS: in 1996, he sponsored a successful amendment to the Ryan White AIDS Reauthorization Act that became known as the “Baby AIDS bill”, which required that if voluntary testing of pregnant women for AIDS failed to produce at least a 50% drop in HIV infections among newborns by 2000, that it would be mandated.  He was reelected in 1996 and 1998, with an increasing percent of the vote. In 2000, Coburn, who had promised to serve only three terms, stuck to it and opted not to run for reelection. He subsequently wrote (through ghostwriter John Hart) Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders (2003), which was highly critical of Congress, including people on the Republican side of the aisle such as Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert.

The Return of Coburn

In 2004, Coburn sought a seat in the Senate, and promised that he would serve no more than two terms and won by 11 points. Columnist George Will wrote of him, “Coburn is the most dangerous creature that can come to the Senate, someone simply uninterested in being popular” (Hart, 2020). He became good friends with one of his fellow freshmen in the chamber, Barack Obama (D-Ill.), stating “I just love him as a man. I think he’s a neat man. You don’t have to be the same to be friends. Matter of fact, the interesting friendships are the ones that are divergent” (Hart, 2020). Coburn persisted in delivering babies as a doctor even though the Senate Ethics Committee attempted to stop him. He also created the Wastebook, which he published annually to detail excessive and wasteful earmarks pushed in the upper and lower houses. The pork kings among them were Senators Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Representatives Don Young (R-Alaska) and Jack Murtha (D-Penn.).

In 2005, Coburn and others crusaded against the proposed “Bridge to Nowhere”, a $223 million bridge that would connect to Gravina Island, a place with a population of 50 instead of continuing to use a ferry service. He proposed an amendment redirecting the money for the bridge to Hurricane Katrina relief, which was defeated 82-15. However, his public opposition had its desired impact: Governor Sarah Palin ultimately canceled the project and allocated the money elsewhere. Coburn’s spending savings weren’t always public either: he would warn senators when a provision would attract an amendment from him and gave them the opportunity to back off the spending and save face. In 2008, he placed a hold on an AIDS bill for Africa as he wanted a fixed percentage of funds guaranteed for AIDS treatment as he was concerned that funds would be diverted for unrelated programs on poverty, and managed to get more than half of the funds guaranteed.

Coburn in the Obama Era

Coburn stood as a staunch opponent of President Obama’s agenda of government expansion and in 2010 proposed $120 billion in cuts. Although this was unsuccessful, the Senate accepted his amendment requiring the Government Accountability Office to study duplication in government that has so far resulted in savings of $262 billion and growing. That year, Coburn was reelected, this time with 70% of the vote. Although firm in conviction, he was willing to work across the aisle on proposals to reduce long-term spending. He backed the Simpson-Bowles framework which called for entitlement reform as well as increases in taxes as he believed it would be best for the nation in the long run. He also became the prime user of the practice of holds in the Senate, in which an objection of a single senator can result in a bill being stopped from coming onto the floor. In 2013, Coburn was listed in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, but he had no interest in attending the celebration…it was simply another day for him. That same year his work in committee investigating Social Security exposed the greatest Social Security disability fraud in history. He also once again with John Hart wrote a book: The Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington from Bankrupting America (2013).

On gun rights, Coburn succeeded in attaching an amendment to the credit card reform bill in 2009 to permit the carrying of concealed weapons onto national parks if in accordance with the state’s gun laws and he also had a consistent pro-life record. In 2013, he had a recurrence of prostate cancer, and opted to retire early at the end of the Congressional session. Coburn delivered an emotional farewell speech in which he emphasized the role of individual senators for the national good:

“Your state isn’t mentioned one time in that oath. Your whole goal is to protect the United States of America, its Constitution and its liberties. It’s not to provide benefits for your state. That’s where we differ — that’s where my conflict with my colleagues has come. It’s nice to be able to do things for your state, but that isn’t our charge. Our charge is to protect the future of our country by upholding the Constitution. The magic number in the Senate is not 60,” he added. “And it’s not 51 — a majority. The most important number in the Senate is one. One senator. That’s how it was set up. That’s how our founders designed it. And with that comes tremendous amounts of responsibility, because the Senate has a set of rules — or at least did — that gives each individual member the power to advance change or stop legislation” (O’Keefe, 2014).

The End

Coburn ended his career defying the fears of his critics and, I might add, scored an impressive 98% on the MC-Index. After the 2016 election, he had a somewhat mixed view on President Trump. While he stated that he had a “personality disorder” he also credited Trump with keeping campaign promises and praised the administration’s focus against excessive regulations.

Coburn leaves behind a legacy of courage in his promotion of gun rights, countering AIDS, fighting for a sustainable fiscal future, exposing and fighting wasteful spending and government corruption, and improving transparency in how the government uses taxpayer funds. I salute him for his courage and accomplishments, and may we have more in Congress like Tom Coburn.


Hart, J. (2020, April 7). Tom Coburn: A Beacon in Dark Times. RealClearPolitics.

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O’Keefe, E. (2014, December 11). Coburn gives tearful, remorseful farewell to the Senate. The Washington Post.

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Harry S. Truman’s Take on History

File:TRUMAN 58-766-06 (cropped).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of modern day interpretations of history in politics, especially the pernicious and deceptive “the parties switched” narratives, Something to be understood about Truman was that he was a liberal Democrat in his day. His policies were embraced by the left-wing Americans for Democratic Action, and what they counted as “liberal” back then is on their website in their voting records dating back to 1947. Truman also wished to enact single-payer healthcare but he found intense opposition from Republicans and Southern Democrats, the combination sufficient to scuttle any such plan. I recently found some choice quotes from his memoirs regarding history, and I find them quite illuminating and not only that, they tell me I’ve been on the right path in ideological identification of political figures of the past.

Some interesting tidbits, all are from 1946-52, Years of Trial and Hope: Volume 2, pages 246 and 248:

“The real political battle of our early days came in 1828, when the modern political parties shaped up in the form in which we know them today. Jackson was recognized as the “man of the people” – an advocate of the liberal interpretation of democracy as practiced by Jefferson. Adams ran for re-election with the support of the people who controlled the United States Bank and who opposed the settlement of the new West without the supervision of private interests. Adams was also supported by the anti-Masons. He always claimed that Jackson won in 1828 with the support of the Masons, which made Adams a bitter anti-Mason for the rest of his life.”

“…the Democratic Party became completely revitalized under Jackson, and its liberal ideas were put into effect for the benefit of the people.”

“Johnson was one of the most mistreated of all Presidents. The press attacked him unmercifully for almost everything he did, including the purchase of Alaska for $7.2 million.”

“Hayes made a good President; he ordered the withdrawal of federal troops from the South.”

“Cleveland had a lot of strikes and riots, but the Democratic Party, as usual, was on the liberal side during his second administration. But the President was not. He became an ultra-conservative. His older son became a leading Republican activist in Baltimore, Maryland.”

“McKinley was sometimes described as “the President Mark Hanna made.” Hanna was the millionaire senator from Cleveland who virtually bought the election while McKinley stayed at home and spoke only to such delegations as came to his house from time to time.”

“He was one of my heroes.” – On William Jennings Bryan.

“Teddy had been far to the left for a Republican – but still right of center as far as the Democrats were concerned – and had put into effort a lot of liberal ideas such as conservation of natural resources and the checking of “malefactors of great wealth.” Taft was an ultra-conservative and partial to the special interests. He was not willing to use the full power of the presidency.”

“I recalled the 1928 Democratic convention in Houston. There were two or three native-son nominations that year, including Jim Reed of Missouri. But Al Smith was given the nomination, and that set off the most vicious anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-Black movement that we have ever had during any political campaign.”

Some comments on his writings:

. It has only been recently that the Democratic Party has chosen to forsake their party’s traditional heroes, Jefferson and Jackson.

. He applies the term “liberal” to Jackson and the Democrats of the 19th century as it was meant in the time he was writing his memoirs…1954-55. Truman regards liberalism as a long-standing trend in the Democratic Party, whereas many historians today disagree at least in part in the name of tarring and feathering contemporary conservatism, refusing to believe that conservatives could support civil rights for minorities. This “liberalism” was not “classical liberalism”, as the term “liberalism” had already been associated with New Deal policies by this point.

. How people looked at Andrew Johnson has changed greatly since the 1950s, in Truman’s case his view of Johnson as a victim can be attributed to his family’s affinity for the Confederacy given their unpleasant experiences with Union forces during the Civil War.

. Truman’s reason for positively assessing Hayes is why many historians do not care for him.

. Truman’s view of McKinley seems to be the old and inaccurate idea that he was a puppet of Mark Hanna.

. Truman’s hero is William Jennings Bryan as he credited him for saving liberalism.

A few words about Truman himself:

Although through contemporary eyes it seems an insane disconnect that President Truman, the first Democratic president to back a civil rights program and who ordered the desegregation of the army, embraced the anti-Reconstruction narrative of the Dunning School. However, it must be noted that many Democrats did not think it inconsistent to consider Reconstruction to be wrong and to support civil rights after World War II, and this includes JFK. Truman himself hadn’t in his heart come around to supporting civil rights until after World War II, as he was casting pro-civil rights votes to win the black vote in Missouri.

In truth, Truman was a man who was born and bred on racism: in 1911, he wrote to his future wife, ″I think one man is just as good as another so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman” (Leuchtenberg, 1991). By contrast, in 1946 he wrote, “But my very stomach turned over when I learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of Army trucks in Mississippi and beaten. Whatever my inclinations as a native of Missouri might have been, as President I know this is bad. I shall fight to end evils like this” (Leuchtenberg, 1991). Truman also backed the foundation of the state of Israel despite anti-Semitic private writings.

President Truman himself is a perfect example of the Democratic Party’s change on racial attitudes: he went from being openly prejudiced to taking action to reduce it in society. I find it fascinating when someone in politics acts contrary to their old prejudices, LBJ and Nixon did so as well. Old habits die hard, however, as after his presidency Truman still told racist jokes, still used racial slurs, opposed sit-in protests, opposed interracial marriage (as did most whites in his day) and referred to MLK as a “troublemaker”. One of the purposes of my blog has been to oppose reductionist thinking in the understanding of history, and Harry S. Truman is an example of a figure who had complicated views on race and history.


Leuchtenberg, W.E. (November 1991). The Conversion Of Harry Truman. American Heritage, 42(7)

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Truman, H.S. (2014). 1946-52: Years of trial and hope, memoirs: volume 2. Boston, MA: New Word City.

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Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.: The Modern Republican Who Helped Make Two Presidents


The 1936 election produced the utmost apex of Democratic power since the Civil War, with Republicans reduced to less than twenty seats in the Senate and less than one hundred in the House. However, one bright spot for the GOP was in Massachusetts, in which Democratic Governor James M. Curley got no support in his bid for the Senate from FDR because he was corrupt, and as a result the leading namesake of the WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, if you are somehow unfamiliar with the term) of Massachusetts, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (1902-1985), was elected.

From the age of seven, when his father died, Lodge had been raised by his grandfather, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Sr., who prepared him for a life in politics. He was a critic of the New Deal and although he voted against it a lot and sought to limit currently existing programs, he made notable exceptions in his votes for the Fair Labor Standards Act and to keep the Federal Theater Project. Lodge had a mixed record on foreign policy before World War II, as he voted against weakening the Neutrality Acts but voted for Lend-Lease and the peacetime draft. During FDR’s third term his politics began to change and World War II was helping shift him to the center. In 1944, he left office to fight in the war, where he served with distinction: in one incident he managed to single-handedly capture four German soldiers. Returning to America a war hero, Lodge faced a weak incumbent in 1946 in David I. Walsh, an aging, closeted homosexual who faced a sex scandal involving a male brothel (almost certainly a case of mistaken identity it turns out) and whose non-interventionist views on foreign policy had fallen way out of step with Massachusetts opinion by this time. He didn’t capitalize on the personal matters of Senator Walsh and won the election by about 20 points.

On his return to the Senate, Lodge was a leading voice for what was called “Modern Republicanism”, one that was staunchly internationalist and centrist on domestic issues. His average Mike’s Conservative Index (MCI) score in his post-war years was 47%, whereas by contrast in his first term in the Senate his average was 78%. The term “country club Republican”, often used by conservatives of the 1950s and 1960s to bash the elite moderates and liberals in the party, fit him exceedingly well given his politics and his aristocratic manner and dress. In 1952, conservatives wanted to nominate Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, who was still somewhat non-interventionist. Lodge was adamantly against Taft’s nomination for domestic and especially foreign policy reasons and recruited Dwight Eisenhower to run for the Republican nomination, with Lodge himself serving as his campaign manager. He was adept at his role and succeeded in securing Eisenhower the nomination as well as the election. However, there was something he overlooked: his own reelection.

The year 1952 was a tremendous turnover year in the Senate and Lodge thought that he was in a good position, but Congressman John F. Kennedy proved a formidable challenger. Kennedy’s grandfather, John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, had put up a spirited but unsuccessful challenge to Lodge’s grandfather in 1916. This time, the Irish Catholics would prevail over the WASPs: Kennedy upset Lodge by three points, an event that could partially be attributed to Taft supporters voting for Kennedy to spite Lodge.

Lodge, UN Ambassador

Although Lodge had lost reelection, Ike had a new job all lined up for him: Ambassador to the United Nations, a role which he served in for almost the entirety of his presidency. Although his grandfather had opposed the League of Nations, Lodge was an enthusiastic supporter of the United Nations and stated that “This organization is created to prevent you from going to hell. It isn’t created to take you to heaven” (Hanhimaki, 2). He managed to gain a great deal of popularity as he often debated with Soviet Union representatives and ripped on the Soviets on television. In one instance, he responded to their accusation that the U.S. was responsible for aggression worldwide stating, “Membership in the United Nations gives every member the right to make a fool of himself, and that is the right of which the Soviet Union, in this case, has taken full advantage of” (Barnes, 1985). In 1959, Lodge escorted Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in his tour of the United States.

One controversial part of his tenure was his backing of a CIA-backed coup overthrowing Guatemala’s legitimately elected government over fears that a communist takeover could occur and his strong-arming of Britain and France to support the US, lest they lose US support in their colonies.

Lodge Joins the Republican Ticket

In 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon sought to succeed Eisenhower and picked Lodge, thinking that this would appeal to the party moderates, help him in the Northeast, and add some needed personal charm to the campaign. However, Lodge was not quite the nominee Nixon had hoped for, and on the campaign trail he pledged, without consulting him beforehand, that he would appoint a black American to the Cabinet. Nixon’s campaign then had to issue a press release stating that there would be no discrimination in appointments. This had the effect of reducing votes from Southern whites, reducing votes from Northern moderates and liberals, and it didn’t even get a good reaction from black voters, many who found it to be pandering. Eisenhower blamed Lodge for losses in the South, stating after the election that “Cabot Lodge should never have stuck his nose into the makeup of the Cabinet. Promising a Negro cost us thousands of votes in the South, maybe South Carolina and Texas” (Pipes, 274). In addition, Lodge couldn’t win his home state given Kennedy was at the head of the Democratic ticket.

New Presidency, New Job

Despite having been on the losing ticket, Lodge eventually was appointed by his old rival Kennedy to the position of Ambassador to South Vietnam, and he took it out of a sense of patriotic duty despite Eisenhower warning him against it. Both men opted to permit a coup that resulted in the assassination of Ngo Diem for his persecution of Buddhists, who constituted a majority of the population. However, Lodge in the following year realized that this had been a mistake since it emboldened communist insurgents and unsuccessfully advocated for making South Vietnam a protectorate of the United States, echoing his grandfather’s support of annexing the Philippines. He warned that the alternatives were military escalation or abandonment, both of which would occur in the coming years. In June 1964, after Lodge won the New Hampshire primary without even announcing his candidacy, he decided to give it a go and resigned as ambassador. However, the conservatives united behind Goldwater and he secured the nomination instead. Lodge returned as Ambassador to South Vietnam in 1965, serving until 1967. For the final months of Johnson’s presidency, Lodge was Ambassador to West Germany.

The Nixon Administration

Like with previous administrations, Nixon had a job for Lodge: heading the peace negotiations with North Vietnam in Paris in 1969, which proved unsuccessful. In 1970, he was appointed Personal Representative of the President to the Holy See, as the United States did not yet have an ambassadorship to the Vatican. It was at the end of Ford’s presidency that Lodge decided to retire to Massachusetts, bringing to an end a forty year career in national politics.

A Kingmaker, Directly and Indirectly

Although Lodge is not necessarily a name that people recognize today, his actions in 1952 made it possible for two men to be president: his recruitment of Eisenhower and devotion to his campaign helped get him elected while his neglect of his own reelection campaign got John F. Kennedy elected to the Senate, and without this Kennedy would not likely have been president. Lodge also impacted rule outside of the United States through his support of the CIA-backed coup in Guatemala and a pledge not to intervene in a planned coup in South Vietnam enabled a deadly regime change.


Barnes, B. (1985, February 28). Henry Cabot Lodge Dies at 82. Washington Post.

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Hanhimaki, J.M. (2008). The United Nations: A very short introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Pipes, K.S. (2007). Ike’s final battle: The road to Little Rock and the challenge of equality. Los Angeles, CA: World Ahead Books.