Jerry Wallace offers this gem. Too good to leave in the comments:
Jim Reed throws his hat in ring. Most viewers, I suspect, have never heard of this politico. Who was he?
James Alexander Reed served as a United States Senator from the State of Missouri from 1911 to 1929. He was a Jeffersonian Democrat with a pronounced libertarian bent from Kansas City and, like Harry Truman, who would later follow him into the Senate, part of the Pendergast machine.
Reed, who in his day was very much a mover and shaker, is overlooked and forgotten today. This is unfortunate and unwarranted. It is probably due in large part to his negativism on major issues and his hostility towards opponents, regardless of party affiliation, along with his vanity and arrogance. I imagine that if you had asked Harry Truman about him, old Harry would have frankly described Reed as a SOB. And that pretty much sums it up. It is worth revealing that at the time of Reed’s death, not one Senator rose to mourn his passing or pay him a word of tribute. I look on Reed as counterpart of H. L. Mencken in the world of American politics in the 1920’s.
For those interested, below is a short biographical sketch of Senator Reed that I wrote a few years back. It will give the reader a general idea of what he was about.
I should mention that James A. Reed would make an excellent subject for a biography, of which he is much in need. Moreover, no meaningful account of the politics of the 1920’s can ignore him and the significant role he played in the Democratic attack on the Coolidge Administration. Whatever else you say about him, Reed was an intelligent and capable man, a very successful lawyer, and a forceful and courageous figure in the politics of his day.
As for research material on him, there is a biography by Lee Meriwether, Jim Reed “Senatorial Immortal” (Webster Groves, MO: International Mark Twain Society, 1948). It is a favorable account by a long time acquaintance, who was assisted in his labor by the second Mrs. Reed. Reed’s extant papers, such as they are, are housed in the Western Historical Manuscript Collection—Kansas City. I believe there is correspondence between Reed and H. L. Mencken, who was a long time friend and supporter, to be found in the latter’s papers on deposit at the New York Public Library. Reed family members may also have material on him.
Finally, the cartoon displayed here comes from the National Archives. However, researchers interested in the Clifford K. Berryman political cartoon collection should be aware that it is located in the Prints and Photograph Division of the Library of Congress.
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JAMES ALEXANDER REED
Jerry L. Wallace
James Alexander Reed is almost forgotten today. Jim Reed, as he was popularly known, was born in Ohio on November 9, 1861, but grew up and was educated in Iowa. For a profession, he chose the law for which he was particularly well suited: He had a commanding appearance, spoke well, loved to debate, and was fierce on the attack. “His language,” Senator George W. Pepper observed, “was blistering, devastating.” “When Reed attacked an opponent, it was almost as if he threw acid upon him.” Above all, he favored the role of the underdog. He always welcomed the opportunity to stand apart.
After his admittance to the bar in 1885, he soon developed a successful practice in Cedar Rapids. Politics—with its issues, debates, and battles on behalf of the people—attracted him from an early age. In his politics, he thought for himself, always marching to his own drummer. While his family was Republican, he declared himself a Democrat. By 18 years of age, he was chairman of his county’s Democratic committee.
Reed life changed dramatically in 1887 when, at 26 years of age, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri. This took place shortly after his marriage to Lura Mansfield Olmsted, who had been divorced by her husband after he had learned of an affair she was having with Reed. The unhappy circumstances underlying their marriage would haunt the couple throughout their life together. Indeed, their marriage stands as an example of the high price extracted for adultery in XIXth Century mid America.
In Kansas City, Reed rose to become a successful and prosperous attorney. In time, Reed entered politics, joining hands with “Big Jim” Pendergast. Throughout his long political career, he would maintain his ties with the Pendergast machine.
Reed’s first post was as Counselor of Kansas City (1897-98). He was then chosen prosecuting attorney of Jackson County (1898-1900), winning, as he was always proud to point out, 285 convictions out of 287 cases brought to trial. He went on to win election as mayor of Kansas City on reform platform, serving two two-year terms (1900-04). He took on the powerful, privately own street railways and the electric and telephone companies. He ended their abuses of the public and city government. His successes were hard won and made him enemies, but they gained him the respect and support of a grateful people. Reed opposed building parks and boulevards, considering them unneeded luxuries. He removed August R. Meyer, the “Father of the Park System,” from the park board. Tom Pendergast served as his Superintendent of Streets.
In 1904, Reed attempted to enter State politics, but failed in his bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. In 1911, however, Reed was elected to the United States Senate by the Missouri State Legislature, defeating the powerful former Governor David R. Francis. He was thereafter re-elected twice in 1916 and 1922 by popular vote. His greatest electoral triumph—a stunning victory, demonstrating his courage and political skills—occurred in the 1922 Democratic primary. At that time, overcoming great odds, he defeated by 6,000 votes Breckinridge Long, a former Wilson Administration official, who had the backing of former President Wilson and most of the party establishment. He then went on to sweep the general election with a majority of 44,000 votes. (In 1948, as they plotted political strategy for the presidential election campaign, Harry Truman and his advisor, Charles G. Ross, would recall Reed’s impossible electoral feat.) Not seeking renomination, he retired from the Senate on March 4, 1929, having served a total of 18 years.
In the Senate, the cigar-smoking, tobacco-spitting Reed was a much-feared opponent, and justly so. He considered himself an “independent legislator,” whose credo was individual liberty. Party loyalty meant little to him; for instance, he denounced Wilson’s League of Nations and declined to endorse the Cox-Roosevelt ticket in 1920 because of their support of it. Once he became fixed on issue, he hit at it unceasingly and did whatever was necessary to bring it down. In debate, his attacks could be mean spirited and personal in tone. Throughout the Coolidge Administration, “Fighting Jim” Reed often led the Democratic opposition to it. Truly, he was a thorn in its side.
He was a man made for opposition. One can say he thrived on it. Among the issues he took on were the Federal Reserve Act, the League of Nation, Woman Suffrage, Prohibition, Four Power Naval Limitation Treaties, World Court (Permanent Court of International Justice), Foreign Debt Settlements, and even the Child Labor Amendment. He also had no hesitation in denouncing organizations, such as the American Protective Association, Ku Klux Klan, and anti-Semitic groups, that preached racial and religious hatred, adding, no doubt, a star to his crown. On a more constructive note, being a sportsman, he did good work in securing legislation for the protection of migrating birds.
Reed never met a President—the party label made no difference—who he did not oppose. “He who demands that Congress shall obey the President stands for despotism,” he said. This won him the title of “fearless critic of Presidents.”
Mr. Coolidge, it seems to me, suffered less from Reed’s verbal blasts than did his two predecessors, Wilson and Harding, and two successors, Hoover and Roosevelt. This may have had something to do with President Coolidge’s rule of minding his own business; that is, not meddling in Congress’s affairs. However, Coolidge’s Vice President, Charles Gates Dawes, did arouse Reed’s ire with his attack on the filibuster. Reed went on to lead the battle against Dawes’s attempt to change the Senate’s rules.
In the 1920’s, Reed was one of the staunchest opponents of Prohibition, who concentrated on showing the public its ineffectiveness and negative results. A collection of his speeches on the subject, The Rape of Temperance, was published by Cosmopolitan books in 1931. He had a passionate dislike for Herbert Hoover, Coolidge’s Secretary of Commerce, going back to the Hoover’s day as Food Administrator during the Great War. He attacked him without mercy whenever possible. He also liked to make life miserable for Andrew Mellon, Coolidge’s Secretary of the Treasury.
In March 1925, Reed delivered Mr. Coolidge once of his most embarrassing Senatorial defeat, when he led the attack that resulted in the rejection of Charles Beecher Warren, Mr. Coolidge’s nominee for Attorney General. This was the first rejection of a Cabinet nominee since the days of Grant. This infuriated the President. He must have wondered why the good citizens of Missouri chose to elect such a man to high office.
Reed was one of the central figures in the Senate in blocking the entry of the United States into the World Court. To him, the Court meant “submitting our destiny to alien judges.” By no means was he alone in the Senate in his opposition to the Court—but in that body, there was no other more prominent, vigorous, violent, and consistent opponent of the Court than the Senior Senator from Missouri. His attacks upon the World Court dated from the 1919 debates on the League of Nation, of which the Court was its legal arm, and continued without letup until he left the Senate in 1928. During much of that time, he was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
On Armistice Day 1926, President Coolidge came to Kansas City to dedicate the Liberty Memorial, a monument to those who had served in the Great War. In his speech that day, the President announced the failure of the protocol ratification process that temporarily ended the effort to bring the United States into the World Court. It was fitting that he made this announcement in the hometown of Fighting Jim Reed. (Reed himself was absent from the platform that day but Mrs. Reed was there to represent him. Lura Reed, by the way, was as cantankerous as Reed himself.) After he left the Senate, Reed continued his opposition to the Court, which ultimately went down to defeat in the Senate in early 1935.
During his career, Reed was a delegate to several Democratic conventions. In 1900, while Mayor, Kansas City hosted the party’s quadrennial gathering. At Baltimore, in 1912, he had the honor of placing House Speaker Champ Clark, a fellow Missourian, in nomination against Woodrow Wilson. Reed himself was a serious contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1928 but garnered few delegates; his name was mentioned in connection with the nomination in both 1924 and 1932.
After leaving the Senate, Reed resumed his practice of law. He never lost his interest in politics. In later years, he became a staunch opponent of the New Deal, rejecting its “paternalism” and “socialist and regulatory schemes.” He threw his political support to Landon and Willkie. He also helped establish an anti-New Deal group known as the Jeffersonian Democrats and served as its honorary head. After his wife’s death in 1932, he married Nell Donnelly, the creator of the “Nelly Don” dress, who he had helped rescue from kidnappers. Reed lived on until September 8, 1944, when his heart gave out.