how to purchase a senator -- 12/23/15
Today's selection -- from America's Bank by Roger Lowenstein. Senator Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island was the most powerful senator in America in the early 1900s. He was not wealthy, but wealthy businessmen who desired his legislative support artfully remedied that deficiency:
"Nelson W. Aldrich, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was arguably the most influential figure in Congress at the turn of the century. In this time of Republican hegemony, his word went practically unchallenged; so great was his authority that newspapers called him the 'general manager of the United States.' Strongly identified with business interests, Aldrich resisted popular efforts to regulate industry and railroads, or to protect labor. The decades since the Civil War had seen America transformed by the Industrial Revolution, and, Aldrich viewed the task of government as essentially ensuring that American business would continue its upward course. In banking as in other fields, he reflexively defended the status quo. ...
"To appreciate the extent to which Aldrich [held power], one has to realize how influential he was not only within the Senate but with Theodore Roosevelt. Although the two did not see eye to eye on popular issues such as trust-busting, labor reform, and railroads, Roosevelt valued Aldrich's intelligence and superior financial sense. What's more, he had to deal with Aldrich's hold on the Finance Committee. As Roosevelt confessed to the crusading journalist Lincoln Steffens, 'Aldrich is a great man to me; not personally but as the leader of the Senate. He is a king pin in my game. Sure I bow to Aldrich. . . . I'm just a president, and he has seen lots of presidents.' ...
|Senator Nelson Aldrich
"In the marriage of business and government, Aldrich felt no discomfort. Like many politicians of the Gilded Age, he genuinely believed that society benefited when its elected leaders were guided by men of wealth. A card-playing companion of J. P. Morgan, he treated his own lack of a fortune as a providential error, one to be duly rectified. In fact, in the early 1890s, he had flirted with leaving the Senate; however, a Rhode Island business tycoon, Marsden J. Perry, offered him a way to stay in Congress and still maintain the lavish lifestyle that he, Abby, and their eight children had come to enjoy. Perry made Aldrich a partner in a plan to consolidate and electrify the state's trolleys; critically, the millions in capital needed to fund the modernization were provided by the Sugar Trust. Buoyed by this investment, Aldrich soon had a personal fortune that ran into the millions, and he could attend to his legislative work without the distraction of material concerns.
"Aldrich saw nothing wrong in such a convenient partnership with sugar -- the industry over which he held so much power. He would have said that his votes for sugar tariffs were votes of conscience. His links to the business elite were further sealed by the marriage of his daughter Abby, in 1901, to John D. Rockefeller Jr. In a perceptive senior thesis submitted at Harvard six decades later, Michael Rockefeller, the senator's great-grandson, would write that 'it became easy for Aldrich to conceive of legislation as being primarily a problem of consultation with the economic aristocracy followed by the application of personal authority.' "
|America's Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve
|Copyright 2015 by Roger Lowenstein
|33-34, 38, 41-43