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Spoiled Child Of American Politics
Henry Cabot Lodge was a public man in the old sense—one who was often wrong but never evil
August 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 5
But he soon abandoned this “impractical” philosophy. Later, a Democratic politician was to remark caustically that when the time came to charge “the forts of folly,” Henry Cabot Lodge was AWOL.
An understanding of the great events of history is always complicated by the existence of imponderables. This is particularly true when understanding hangs upon the unraveling of tangled human motives. Surely Lodge’s whole personality had a great deal to do with the defeat of the League. So also did his deep hatred of Wilson. A number of his friends, most notably Elihu Root, believed that Lodge would have acted differently if his wife, Nannie Lodge, had been alive in 1919. They argued that she was his balance wheel, that after her death in 1915 his judgment was not what it had formerly been.
They may well have been right, for Lodge had a vast respect (as well as a great love) for her, and she had qualities that acted to soften the sharp edges of his nature. Her sympathetic warmheartedness checked his frigid intellectualism and his acid tongue. She had great wit, and an impishness that she did not hesitate to use against him in his own interest. She could dismiss as “quite impossible” a draft of a speech he had labored over for days, and finally accept perhaps a third revision with an affectionate “I suppose it is as good as you can do, my poor boy.”
Lodge took such treatment submissively, ft was exactly the sort of deflation he most needed, and could get from no one else. Her influence would not have changed his basic attitude toward the League, but it could well have modified his tactics.
Lodge was at the height of his power and influence in 1920, when the Versailles Treaty was defeated and the Republicans swept back into power behind Warren G. Harding. Yet both his power and influence evaporated quickly in the era of “normalcy,” and his last four years were almost pathetic. He suffered no noticeable loss of his faculties, but he could not adjust to the coarse glitter of the Twenties. He never understood Harding’s vacuity, and struggled to explain away his weaknesses.
Lodge, who had denounced in scathing tones the prose style of the League Covenant as perhaps good enough “to get by at Princeton but certainly not at Harvard,” and to whom a split infinitive was a shattering experience, could write to a friend in 1921: “You speak of Harding’s English. He has an affectation for odd words that I do not share, words like ‘normalcy’ . . . but I should not have said that his writing was all what you seem to think it.” What greater proof that Lodge had lost his grip could be required?
Indeed, he had outlived his time. He did not actually “decline.” He held his seat in the Senate, even fighting and winning a hard-fought election in the Democratic year of 1922, but the noxious Harding scandals, Andrew Mellon’s view of federal financing, and the vapidity of the slogan “Keep Cool with Coolidge,” were simply beyond his comprehension.
He died in November, 1924. Though a strange and difficult character, combining qualities both likeable and exasperating, this at least can be said in his favor: he was a public man in the fine, old sense of the term, aware of his responsibilities, assiduous in the performance of his duty, proud of the power delegated to him under our system of representative government. He loved his country and sought to serve its interests. He was often wrong, but never evil.