In 1884, a bright undergrad student is making his mark on the political world by delivering stump speeches for Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine. Although the politically damaged Blaine is the first Republican to lose an election to a Democrat since before the War of the Rebellion, Albert J. Beveridge’s (1862-1927) oratorical skills are noted and this plus his activism and legal career help propel his political career, leading to him making his mark in the United States Senate and later, as a historian.
First Senate Term: Conservative Nationalism
During Beveridge’s campaign for the Senate from Indiana, he delivered a famous speech on September 16, 1898 that would be part of what defined his career called “March of the Flag”, in support of the pending Treaty of Paris that delivered to the United States former Spanish colonial possessions. A notable part of the speech was, “The Opposition tells us that we ought not to govern a people without their consent. I answer, The rule of liberty that all just government derives its authority from the consent of the governed, applies only to those who are capable of self-government. We govern the Indians without their consent, we govern our territories without their consent, we govern our children without their consent. How do they know that our government would be without their consent? Would not the people of the Philippines prefer the just, humane, civilizing government of this Republic to the savage, bloody rule of the pillage and extortion from which we have rescued them?” (Beveridge, 1898) In 1899, he was elected to the Senate as a stand-patter Republican. He had been a strong party loyalist and was widely regarded as a stalwart. He, along with President Theodore Roosevelt and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.) proved one of the most prominent advocates of American imperialism, backing the annexation of the Philippines and a larger navy to enhance the US presence around the world. Beveridge as a senator stood as an intellectual advocate for his causes.
On January 9, 1900, Beveridge delivered one of his most notable speeches in which he called for the permanent annexation of the Philippines for the sake of being a power in the Pacific Ocean and expanding the United States’ ability to trade with China and Australia. He also regarded the Filipinos as akin to children and thus not suited for self-government as a justification for the United States taking over. He stated on his beliefs, “Mr. President, this question is deeper than any question of party politics; deeper than any question of the isolated policy of our country even; deeper even than any question of constitutional power. It is elemental. It is racial. God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples. Were it not for such a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night. And of all our race he has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America and it holds for us all the profit, all the glory, all the happiness possible to man. We are trustees of the world’s progress, guardians of its righteous peace. The judgment of the Master is upon us; “Ye have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things”” (33 Cong. Rec. 711, 1900).
Beveridge was a firm believer in the concept of “white man’s burden”, that it was up to white men to enlighten other societies to the merits of western civilization. He believed that American imperialism was an extension of Manifest Destiny and a benefit to the civilizations it covered. Although Beveridge’s first term was marked by a strong conservative nationalism and adherence to the policies of William McKinley, in his second term he would take a different path.
Second Senate Term: Following the Colonel
After the assassination of William McKinley, newly sworn in President Theodore Roosevelt had promised to continue his predecessor’s agenda and largely did. However, in his second term, Roosevelt felt he had more room to be independent and pushed his Square Deal policies. Beveridge followed President Roosevelt’s reformist agenda, with the decline in his conservatism being dramatic: in his first term, his MC-Index score was a strong 95%, in his second term it had declined to a 61%. He, for instance, supported stronger railroad and food safety regulations than conservative Republicans supported. Beveridge proved an important intellectual ally for President Roosevelt and the pushing of Republicans to a more reformist stance. In 1911, despite his reformist outlook, Beveridge was a casualty of the GOP’s disastrous midterm, losing to Democrat John W. Kern as the Democrats had won control of the Indiana State Legislature. Beveridge’s overall MC-Index score was a 78%.
In 1912, Beveridge sided with Theodore Roosevelt in the Republican Party split and was the chairman of the Progressive Party Convention, delivered its keynote address, and formally nominated Theodore Roosevelt. Efforts in 1912 and 1914 to make a comeback failed under the Bull Moose banner. He started devoting his time to one of his passions: history. Beveridge proved immensely talented, writing The Life of John Marshall, a four-volume biography of the legendary chief justice that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1920. In 1922, Beveridge attempted a comeback after winning the nomination against incumbent Harry S. New, a hardcore conservative. However, he lost to Democrat Samuel Ralston in a good year for the Democrats. This brought an end to his faltering political career and he spent the remainder of his life writing a biography of Abraham Lincoln.
Beveridge had only finished Lincoln’s biography to 1858 when on April 9, 1927, he suffered a massive heart attack. This was attributed to overwork and although it appeared he was recovering, he suffered a fatal one on April 27th. In what he wrote of Lincoln, he covered him not in a hagiographical sense as had numerous previous biographies, but in a more realistic light that didn’t shy away from covering his flaws as a politician. He also attracted controversy for holding abolitionists primarily responsible for the tensions that led to the War of the Rebellion. Beveridge also in his post-career returned to his earlier conservatism, commenting with alarm on the growth of the federal government and at the level of regulation on business, holding in a 1923 speech that “America would be better off as a country and Americans happier and more prosperous as a people if half our Government boards, bureaus and commissions were abolished, hundreds of thousands of our Government officials, agents and employees were discharged and two-thirds of our Government regulations, restrictions, and inhibitions were removed” (Beveridge, 1923). Beveridge did not live to the see the New Deal, but would have likely been horrified, as were many (Harold Ickes was a notable exception) of the former Bull Moose Republicans.
To this day, Beveridge’s reputation as a historian remains intact; the American Historical Association gives the Albert J. Beveridge Award for “biographies, monographs, and works of synthesis and interpretation” (American Historical Association).
33 Cong. Rec. 704-712 (1900, January 9). (Albert J. Beveridge: In Support of an American Empire).
Albert J. Beveridge Award. American Historical Association.
Beveridge, A.J. (1898, September 16). March of the Flag: Address to an Indiana Republican Meeting
Beveridge, A.J. (1923, June 18). Address on the Occasion of the Dinner of the General Society, Sons of the Revolution. Holdridge Ozro Collins, ed.
Braeman, J. (2004). Albert J. Beveridge and Demythologizing Lincoln. Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, 25(2), pp 1-24.