Since the conclusion of my Texas Legends series, I have been thinking about the next step. I was thinking about a series called American Radicals, and I still plan on writing it with the first entry being W.E.B. Du Bois. However, what has come quicker to my mind is the series I start today, Great Conservatives of American History. This is about legislators who honored their offices, had conservative records, and fought for what they saw as the right thing. Not all of these people would have necessarily got on personally with each other, as this series will include both segregationists and black people. Some can retroactively be called great conservatives, as I have already written about them. These include Henry Cabot Lodge Sr., John J. Williams, Joe Cannon, Hamilton Fish, John Rousselot, H.R. Gross, Thomas Brackett Reed, Durward G. Hall, Thomas B. Curtis, George Tinkham, James Wadsworth, James B. Allen, James M. Beck, William McCulloch, Oscar De Priest, and Fisher Ames. This list is necessarily a bit of a subjective one, as I am coming at this subject as a conservative, and certain ones who engaged in behavior I find embarrassing or discrediting for their time don’t make the list, such as John G. Schmitz and Earl Landgrebe. After all, that does rather take away greatness from them. The first entry in this series is about one of the foremost conservatives of the 1920s, a man who fought relentlessly for American sovereignty and for the sovereignty of its people. This would be New Hampshire’s George Higgins Moses (1869-1944).
Moses started his career young in politics and journalism. At the age of 20, he started working as private secretary to the governor of New Hampshire, a post he would serve in for two years. Moses would then get into journalism, reporting for the Concord Evening Monitor, and would rise to chief editor, a position he held for twenty years. He served as a partner in this endeavor with Senator William E. Chandler and his son. Moses would begin to make his presence known in Washington during the first Roosevelt Administration, and this would result in him holding his first office.
In 1909, President William Howard Taft nominated Moses US Minister to Greece and Montenegro, despite Moses not having originally supported his nomination, a post he served in until 1912. During this time, he wrote several articles for National Geographic on the racial tensions of the region. During this time, he attracted the positive attention of veteran Senator Jacob Gallinger, who he helped win reelection in 1914. Gallinger gave his blessing for him to join him in the Senate by running against Democratic incumbent Henry Hollis in 1918. However, the 81-year-old Gallinger died on August 17th, so Moses ran to replace him instead and narrowly won.
Moses was a staunch opponent of President Wilson’s New Freedom domestic agenda and in 1919, he was one of the leaders in the fight against the League of Nations and he identified with the irreconcilables on the question, who would accept no version of the Versailles Treaty. Moses delivered a compelling speech that swayed several colleagues against the League, and it became the first peace treaty in American history to fail to be ratified. He backed the Esch-Cummins Act, which returned railroads to the private sector with favorable conditions, and backed an anti-strike provision in the measure, earning the staunch opposition of the AFL’s Samuel Gompers. Moses also cast his vote against the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage). In 1920, he backed General Leonard Wood for the Republican nomination for president before settling on supporting Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding.
During the 1920s, Moses served as a major conservative leader and had at times an independent voting record from what the Republican Party at the time wanted. Despite most conservative Republican senators backing the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act in 1921 and the Child Labor Amendment in 1924, he voted against. Moses also sided with the Harding and Coolidge Administrations against the veterans’ bonus bill as straining the budget. He also curiously voted against the Mellon tax cuts in 1921, likely not viewing them as sufficient given his ultra-conservatism elsewhere. From 1925 to 1933, Senator Moses served as the president pro tem. He was a strong supporter of the Coolidge Administration and frequently voted to uphold President Coolidge’s vetoes. Moses was known for his sharp wit, and this made him an effective, trusted, and credible figure on the Senate floor, if not always the most liked among the targets of his wit. He would also in this role mentor a future conservative senator in Norris H. Cotton. Cotton would in later years remark on his boss’s nature, “The world never saw, nor does history record, the human, compassionate side of George Moses. This was his fault. To the world he gave the impression of a cynical, sarcastic, brilliant individual with a biting tongue. In later years, when I was more mature, I came to realize that he enjoyed that role – indeed, that he almost reveled in it. His wit was sharp as a rapier and he could not resist uttering a witticism, no matter how cutting” (GovInfo, 89).
In 1929, Senator Moses referred to a group of progressive Republican senators troubling the GOP leadership on tariff legislation as the “sons of the wild jackass” (U.S. Senate). Although he tried to play it off as an admiration for their stubbornness, this contributed to the tensions between the wings of the party. During the Great Depression, Moses, similar to Herbert Hoover opposed just giving states relief money, rather opting for the money to be loaned. Unlike Hoover, however, he supported ending Prohibition. Being a Republican was politically costly in this time, especially a conservative Republican, and he was among the casualties as in 1932 he lost reelection by a point to Democrat Fred Brown, running behind President Herbert Hoover, who narrowly won the state. Moses’ MC-Index score was a 97% while his DW-Nominate score was a 0.709, making him one of the most conservative senators in the history of the Republican Party.
The Final Years
Although out of office, Moses maintained hopes of a Republican resurgence and even him possibly returning to the Senate, attempting to do so twice. In 1936, he backed Frank Knox for the Republican nomination, fully believing that if nominated he would win. Instead, Knox was placed as the vice-presidential candidate and the ticket was crushed, only winning Maine and Vermont. The following year, he wrote to Senator Carter Glass (D-Va.), by this time an avowed foe of the New Deal, proposing a conservative alliance between Republicans and Southern Democrats, holding that because the black vote no longer went Republican, the issue of the “color line” was no longer present (Schickler, 247). This presaged the Conservative Coalition that arose after the 1938 midterms and the South’s long-term eventual shift to the GOP. Moses ultimately never got to come back, with his old seat being won back to the GOP by Congressman Charles W. Tobey, a guy who would by World War II’s end be on the moderate to liberal wing of the party. Moses didn’t live to see his party’s resurgence, dying on December 20, 1944. Even if he had lived to see the Republicans win control both the White House and Congress again from 1953 to 1955, his arch-conservatism, his status as an irreconcilable on the Versailles Treaty, and his thoughts about President Hoover as being too liberal would certainly have had him finding Eisenhower wanting on a domestic and foreign policy basis. Norris Cotton recalled about him in his 1978 memoir, “My own boss, George Moses, a man of many contradictory traits, was in many respects the most brilliant man who ever represented New Hampshire, and he merits more than passing attention…Moses was truly a master of words” (GovInfo, 89).
Dartmouth College Public Service Legacy: George Higgins Moses, Class of 1890. The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences.
Fathers of the Senate, 1890-1946. GovInfo.
Schickler, E. (2016). Racial realignment: the transformation of American liberalism, 1932-1965. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
“Sons of the Wild Jackass”. United States Senate.