When he entered the U.S. Senate in 1899 at age 36, Albert Jeremiah Beveridge (1862-1927) was hailed as one of America's most influential young leaders. An advocate of U.S. imperialism overseas, he foresaw the growth of America as a world power during the early twentieth century. Over the course of his political career, Beveridge became a supporter of progressive social policies, working to enact pure food, child labor, and tariff reform laws. His later work as a historian won him wide acclaim.
A brilliant orator and charismatic political leader, U.S. Senator Albert J. Beveridge first rose to fame in 1898 as a fervent exponent of American expansion overseas. His efforts to secure a colonial presence for the United States were rooted in a deeply-held nationalism and faith in big business. Over time, though, Beveridge evolved into a critic of America's political and business elites, joining with like-minded Republican reformers to help spearhead the Progressive movement of the early 1900s. After leaving the Senate, he embarked upon a second career as a historian, authoring highly-regarded biographies of John Marshall and Abraham Lincoln.
Outstanding Young Orator
Born on a farm in Highland County, Ohio, on October 6, 1862, Beveridge was the only child of Thomas Henry Beveridge (a farmer and Union soldier) and his second wife, Francis Parkinson Beveridge. In 1865, the family moved to another farm in Moultree County, Illinois, where the son grew up under harsh conditions. By age 14, he was working as a railroad hand and, a few years later, managed a logging crew. Determined to rise above his poor beginnings, Beveridge studied the classical works of Plutarch and Caesar, winning him financial sponsorship to Indiana's Ashbury College (now DePauw University). While still an undergraduate, he won local renown as a political orator, stumping for Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine in 1884. Even in his early speeches, Beveridge's fervent nationalism and support for a strong Federal government were evident.
Beveridge went on to earn a law degree in 1887. That same year, he moved to Indianapolis and married fellow Ashbury student Katherine Langsdale. Specializing in civil cases, he quickly became a leading member of the Indiana bar, at times facing ex-President Benjamin Harrison as opposing counsel. Beveridge continued to rise in Republican Party circles as well, speaking widely during the 1892 and 1896 presidential campaigns. His well-reasoned orations emphasized short, incisive phrases and contrasted with the more ornate speechmaking styles of the era. By age 30, he was considered one of the leading political orators in the United States.
In 1898, Beveridge gained national fame as a persuasive advocate of U.S. colonial expansion following the Spanish-American War. His appeals to his country's sense of overseas destiny had a visionary quality to them. Beveridge saw control of Cuba and the Phillipines as pivotal to American commercial expansion in the twentieth century. In his famous 1898 "March of the Flag" speech, he ridiculed the idea of that Spain's former possessions could govern themselves. "Shall we turn these people back to the reeking hands from which we have taken them?" he asked. "Shall we save them from these nations to give them the self-rule of tragedy? It would be like giving a razor to a babe and telling it to shave itself."
U.S. Senator at Age 36
Such bold declarations helped to advance Beveridge's political career. In 1899, he outmaneuvered several veteran office-holders to become the Republican choice for U.S. Senator from Indiana. His election at age 36 made him one of the youngest members in American history. From the start, Beveridge stood out from his colleagues as a brash, independent voice. A few months prior to taking his Senate seat, he traveled to the war-torn Philippines to witness conditions first-hand. He quickly became an important voice in American foreign policy, gaining far more attention than most freshman Senators. His eloquence in urging America to accept its place as a world power took on a messianic tone. "We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilization of the world," he told his fellow senators in a January 9, 1900, speech. "And we will move forward to our work, not howling out regrets like slaves whipped to their burdens, but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength, and thanksgiving to Almighty God that He has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration of the world."
While Beveridge's self-dramatizing manner rankled some Republican elders, he was valued as a firm supporter of conservative economic policy and overseas expansion. Many predicted great things for him, including the presidency. Recalling Beveridge's early days in the Senate, journalist William Allen White wrote in his 1946 autobiography: "He was an eager young man… . His ambition was obvious and sometimes a bit ridiculous, but always innocent and shameless like a child's indecencies. His was a warm personality, gentle, kindly."
In the early 1900s, Beveridge gradually began to move away from his uncritical support of American big business. A long-time believer in an activist federal government, he now sought to direct its powers towards regulation of industry and commerce. Following his re-election in 1905, he worked in the Senate to revise tariff laws and bolster the Interstate Commerce Commission's power to fix railroad rates. He was especially prominent in support of meat inspection and child labor laws, bringing him the opposition of meat packing and manufacturing interests. Beveridge began to criticize the excessive influence of big business in politics as well. "I do not object to capital," he wrote in a 1906 magazine article. "I defend it—only let it attend to its own business. And public life and special legislation for its own benefit are not its business… ."
In these and other battles, Beveridge had a sometimes fitful ally in President Theodore Roosevelt. By 1907, he had become a leading figure in the emerging Progressive movement, working to spur on Roosevelt to support reformist legislation. Aided by Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin, Jonathan P. Dolliver of Iowa, Moses Clapp of Minnesota, and other Senate insurgents, he attacked the entrenched power of the Republican Old Guard and its close association with big business. His battles with the autocratic Senator Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island were especially bitter. Despite this, he remained loyal to his party and campaigned vigorously for Republican presidential nominee William H. Taft in 1908. He became disillusioned, however, when Taft supported the Payne-Aldrich tariff bill, which progressives viewed as an attempt to block meaningful tariff reform. Beveridge's clashes with the Old Guard leadership alienated him from Indiana's more conservative Republicans, leading to his defeat for re-election in 1911.
Though out of the Senate, Beveridge remained a force in politics, supporting Roosevelt's bid for the 1912 Republican presidential nomination and subsequent candidacy as the leader of the newly-formed Progressive (or "Bull-Moose") Party. He delivered the keynote address at the party's national convention in Chicago, declaring in favor of "social brotherhood as against savage individualism … mutual helpfulness instead of a reckless competition." Beveridge ran as the Progressive nominee for governor of Indiana that fall. In the end, though, both he and Roosevelt were defeated.
Beveridge devoted much of the next two years to making the Progressives a viable party. He campaigned extensively for its candidates and made an unsuccessful bid for his old Indiana U.S. Senate seat as the party's nominee in 1914. Two years later, though, Roosevelt effectively ended the Progressive Party by refusing to accept its presidential nomination. Beveridge returned to the Republican fold that year, though he supported Democrat Woodrow Wilson's anti-interventionist stance in World War I, as well as many of Wilson's domestic policies. He spoke out against suppression of political dissidents after the U.S. entered the war in 1917. Most of all, he actively opposed American participation in the League of Nations, denouncing it as a surrender of national sovereignty.
Won Acclaim as Historian
In 1922, Beveridge ran for the U.S. Senate in Indiana once again, winning the Republican primary but losing to Democrat Samuel M. Ralston in the general election. Turning away from active politics, he devoted himself almost exclusively to writing history for the remainder of his life. His career as an author began back in 1903 with the publication of The Russian Advance, a study of international politics. What Is Back of the War (1915) collected a series of interviews with European leaders and drew some criticism for its supposedly pro-German tilt. The Life of John Marshall (four volumes, 1916-1919) is regarded as his most important work. Benefiting from careful research, this biography of the great U.S. chief justice showed its author to be a graceful, meticulous prose stylist and discerning historian. Both critically and commercially successful, The Life of John Marshall won the Pulitzer Prize in 1920.
For his next literary subject, Beveridge turned to Abraham Lincoln. Sifting through long-unseen documents and letters, he found many of his own long-held political beliefs altered in the process. Ultimately, Beveridge stripped away the hero-worship surrounding Lincoln and found him to be a complex, imperfect politician and human being. He was still in the process of rewriting his manuscript when he died of a heart attack at his Indianapolis home on April 27, 1927. Though left incomplete, his Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1858 (two volumes, 1928) was a substantial contribution to Lincoln scholarship.
A truly independent political mind, Beveridge adhered to a strongly nationalistic faith that embraced both liberal social reforms and aggressive foreign policy. He was remembered by his contemporaries for his intense energy and self-confidence, especially at the start of his political career. Wrote journalist Mark Sullivan in his memoirs: "At all times, in every circumstance, Beveridge had a sense of responsibility for the United States, concern that it should be well managed, care that no ill should befall it."
Bowers, Claude G., Beveridge and the Progressive Era, Houghton Mifflin, 1932.
Leech, Margaret, In The Days of McKinley, Harper & Brothers, 1959.
Morris, Edmund, Theodore Rex, Random House, 2001.
The Record of American Diplomacy, edited by Ruhl J. Bartlett, Alfred A. Knopf, 1948.
Sullivan, Mark, The Education of an American, Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1938.
White, William Allen, The Autobiography of William Allen White, Macmillan, 1946.