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Laurence Jurdem on the Campbell Conversations

Laurence Jurdem
Laurence Jurdem

Program transcript:

Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher. My guest today is Laurence Jurdem. He's a historian and writer and is currently also an adjunct professor at Fairfield University and Fordham College's Lincoln Center campus. He recently published a new book titled, “The Rough Rider and the Professor: Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge and the Friendship That Changed American History”. Laurence, welcome to the program.

Laurence Jurdem: Grant, thanks very much, great to speak with you. And as a former Syracuse University graduate, it's particularly wonderful to have the opportunity to chat about the book.

GR: Well, that makes it even more exciting for me to talk to you about it, so that's great. So, let me just start with a really basic question, and that is how did you get interested in writing this book at this moment in time?

LJ: Well, I you know, this book came out, I guess, as the people, some people in the publishing industry have referred to it, it's a, “COVID” book. And I, as so many of us, were locked down in 2020, I'd always wanted to write a commercial book. I had written an academic book, which was the publication of my dissertation about the influence of several conservative magazines on the foreign policy of President Reagan. But I really see myself at heart as a storyteller. I want to reach as many readers as possible. I know there are so many people who love history, love a great story. And I found myself as one who was loved presidents from the time I was a little child. I thought, I loved the idea of friendship and camaraderie among men. And I thought, well, who was Theodore Roosevelt's closest friend? And I kept seeing, you know, Henry Cabot Lodge. And I read, of course, Edmund Morris's wonderful trilogy and I thought Lodge just isn't mentioned very much. And when I was going through the notesin Morris's first volume, “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt”, he made mention of a book called, “The President Makers”, which was written back in the 1940’s and makes the argument that Henry Cabot Lodge was essentially responsible for catapulting Roosevelt much quicker up the political ladder than he otherwise would have been. And I thought, what a fascinating idea. And so I thought, well, this could really work. And of course they have these, this incredible relationship, which also is intimated in the correspondence they had between 1884 and 1919, which encompasses about 2500 letters. So I thought, wow, nobody's really ever done this and what a great idea it could be.

GR: It's interesting. And so we'll get a little bit later in our conversation to how this friendship changed American history. But I want to ask some more sort of personal questions first. And the first one is, so how did the two people, how did these two persons meet and become friends in the first place?

LJ: Well, they had known each other, I think periodically. They both were graduates of Harvard. They both were members of the Porcellian Club. Lodge was about seven years older than T.R. When T.R. was at Harvard he would frequently be in the Porcellian Club, Lodge would be there. Lodge was teaching a course on colonial history. He was not the most scintillating academic, as I think he initially started out with fourteen students, ended up with four…

GR: (laughter)

LJ: …there were no student evaluations then. And they may have met again when Roosevelt married Lodge's distant cousin, Alice Lee. But they really came to know one another out of the tumultuous convention of 1884. Both men were, one could say, liberal Eastern Republicans. They were very much focused in the belief that virtue, honor, integrity were the underlining qualities that a president must have in order for them to inhabit the office. And James Blaine, who was a very dynamic character of the 19th century Gilded Age, was someone who was going to be the Republican nominee and Lodge and Roosevelt were determined to prevent that from happening. Both were elected by their respective states, Massachusetts for Lodge, New York for Roosevelt to go to the convention in Chicago. And they soon took up a friendship and ended up essentially trying to work together to dislodge Blaine from the nomination which they unfortunately failed to do. And that's kind of where this friendship comes out. There was a great deal of failure at the end of that convention for both Lodge and Roosevelt. Lodge and Roosevelt decided that, as they believed their duty was to vote for the nominee since they had been voted in by their constituents, they voted for Blaine. Both were politically ambitious men, particularly Lodge, who was running for Congress at the time. And once Blaine lost that election, the liberals on Beacon Hill, who Lodge had been friends with for his whole life, turned their back on him. And not only ostracized him from Boston Society, they also worked to make sure he was defeated in that first run for Congress and Lodge never forgot that. Roosevelt, who had lost his wife and mother that year, retreated into the natural world of the West of the Dakota Territory, uncertain if he would ever enter politics again. But out of this turmoil comes this extraordinary friendship where both men really try to mine the best that are in each one of them to rise to some sort of political prominence. And that's really what the book is about, after the convention of 1884.

GR: And so, friendships are about a lot more than getting something out of them, obviously. But I did want to ask you, one would have the impression from what you just said I think that it was perhaps Roosevelt who benefited more from the friendship than Lodge did. Is that fair to say?

LJ: I don't think so.

GR: Okay.

LJ: Henry Cabot Lodge was a very intuitive man. He would have been a wonderful political strategist today. He was a very strategic thinker, he was very aggressive. He knew everyone who he needed to know or wanted to know in the political arena, particularly in Massachusetts. And there was something about the young Theodore Roosevelt that he took a shine to. Something about that dynamism, that energy, that intelligence, that curiosity that Lodge didn't really possess. He was a very formal man, a very introverted man, a man who really didn't like people very much. He was not a natural politician. Many people said that when Lodge got up to talk, he had the voice that sounded like the tearing of a bedsheet. And Lodge himself actually said that he sounded like a dentist's drill. And if you go online, and there is a brief audio clip of him speaking about the League of Nations, that's really what he sounds like. He's like, (wavering) “I want to say…” and it's just, you know?

GR: (laughter)

LJ: But they both had a lot of mutual interests and even then in 1884, Lodge believed that Roosevelt, to coin that famous phrase from T.R.’s cousin FDR, had a rendezvous with destiny. Very insightful and very prescient and just, Lodge was determined to do everything and anything he could to get Roosevelt up that political ladder as quickly as possible.

GR: You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and I’m speaking with Laurence Jurdem. He's a historian with a new book out titled, “The Rough Rider and the Professor, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge and the Friendship That Changed American History”. So, Roosevelt was known at the time as he became more well-known, as a proponent of a physically strenuous life. And there's a there's a famous picture of him at Harvard, I think he's a freshman where he’s shirtless, sitting there with his arms crossed, and he looks to use the language of today, he looks positively ripped. I mean, he's impressive by any standards. Did Lodge also partake of that type of life, that a thing that they shared? It sounds like maybe they didn’t.

LJ: They did in a way. Both men were very competitive, they were both great sportsmen, Lodge in fact, taught Roosevelt the joys that Roosevelt came to have about fox hunting. And this was not fox hunting in the leisure sort of way that one might think of it. Roosevelt, as we know, loved danger. And the faster he could ride and the more precarious the path he was on during that fox hunt, the better. In fact, there was one incident where Roosevelt was riding, I believe, out in Long Island, near his home in Sagamore Hill. He took a very, very bad fall, and he crushed his arm, cut up his face, and he basically wrote Lodge something to the effect, well, I'm always willing to pay the penalty if I have a good dance. And while most people would have retired from this sort of thing, Roosevelt's like, bring it on, it doesn't matter. And so Roosevelt just had so much energy and Lodge was also a very good rider, perhaps a better rider than Roosevelt. And the two would ride together through Rock Creek Park in Washington, Roosevelt rode with Lodge. In fact, he rode Lodge’s favorite horse, Toronto, which was a beautiful black stallion. And he rode it at East Point at Nahant, which was Lodge’s, very much his sanctuary, very much his happy place where he could go skinny dipping. Probably one of the few times Lodge was ever as transparent as any politician could be. And they just were very sporty and had a lot of stuff in common. They both wrote history, they both loved living well, they both loved literature. And for whatever reason, Henry Cabot Lodge was just enormously comfortable and adored Theodore Roosevelt.

GR: And you mentioned something about this a few minutes ago, but they became friends at about the same time that Roosevelt went to the Dakota Territory to live a life on the frontier as a rancher. And that followed the death, and you mentioned mother and wife in the same year, I believe it was the same day.

LJ: Same day, literally minutes apart.

GR: Yeah, and it crushed him. And Roosevelt wrote later that he wouldn't have become president had it not been for that experience on the Dakota Territory. So I was just wondering, was Lodge involved in that enterprise out there in the West in any way with Roosevelt as a backer or a partner or anything like that?

LJ: No, but I think what happened there was Lodge and Roosevelt began exchanging this incredible correspondence where they were writing two to three letters to one another a day. Lodge wrote more letters to Roosevelt then than Roosevelt did to Lodge. And Roosevelt was out there enjoying the natural world, riding, going on cattle drives, writing to Lodge about how he had found a couple of horse thieves and had rounded them up. And there was just, this was a difficult time as you say for Theodore Roosevelt, this lack of confidence had really kind of eroded a little bit with all of these disappointments. And Lodge kept saying to him, you know, you're terrific, you'll be back. And Roosevelt did the same for Lodge because Lodge had lost this race for Congress. Roosevelt had left Dakota to go and campaign for him in Massachusetts, a race that Lodge lost by only a few votes. Generally, those liberals who had broken away from the Republican Party to vote for Grover Cleveland, and they voted for the Democratic candidate in that respect as well. But this was really a period where this friendship starts to develop and starts to mature. And Roosevelt is there enjoying the West while also saying, Gee, maybe I can come back, maybe I can make a new start.

GR: You're listening to The Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and I'm talking with Laurence Jurdem. He's a historian and the author of a new book titled, “The Rough Rider and the Professor: Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and the Friendship That Changed American History”. All right, so the big question, Laurence, suggested in your title, how did this friendship affect or change American history?

LJ: I think it changed it in a couple of ways. As I said at the beginning, Theodore Roosevelt, who was a very gifted man on so many different levels, as we know. Intellectually, he had a photographic memory and audio-graphic memory, just a man of remarkable intelligence and drive and ambition. I have no doubt that he would have been president at some point because as you go through the man's career ,and the constant frustration that he has with all the different people he works for, including Benjamin Harrison who he calls a little cold blooded toad at one point, he basically, the presidency was the only job he would have really been happy in. But Henry Cabot Lodge, who had this extraordinary, as I said, strategic mind, this marvelous list of contacts and this incredible networking ability. He really pushed Roosevelt up that ladder to make him president far quicker than he would have ordinarily. It was just under seventeen years or so after Roosevelt first entered politics in 1882. And Lodge convinces Roosevelt against Roosevelt's judgment to take the vice presidency. And he literally writes after Roosevelt accepts the vice presidency and is complaining about how miserable he is, Lodge literally writes a letter and says, nobody can predict what will happen in four years. And that's as prescient as you can get. The other thing was their mutual belief, Lodge and Roosevelt's mutual belief in American exceptionalism, in the belief that the United States was a nation that was blessed by God to spread its ideas through the world. And this is really this idea that Lodge had been talking about a long time about expansion. The West, as we know, was gone by this point. And the only other way to expand for the United States was abroad. And Lodge believed we needed to expand in the Pacific. We needed a large canal going from Central America out into the Pacific. And he positioned Roosevelt, of course, becoming assistant secretary of the Navy, and eventually both men through cajoling William McKinley and others to the U.S. is able to acquire Hawaii, Spanish-American War successful in acquiring Puerto Rico and Guam. And that's really, I think, how that history was changed. This incredible drive by both men to achieve greatness for the United States. And they really believed the U.S. was a great nation and should be a leader in the world because of that.

GR: Interesting. And of course, every friendship has its ups and downs. What were the big strains in this friendship?

LJ: Well, Lodge was someone who always wanted to have… I mean, both men were very self-centered in a way. Oftentimes, their marriages would suffer because of this. Lodge was always determined to have his own way. When Theodore Roosevelt actually wrote a note to a friend of his and said, you know, when Cabot is a great guy, but when he gets something in his mind, you're not going to be able to dislodge him from it. And that was very much initially with the vice presidency. Roosevelt really didn't want it, his wife, Edith Roosevelt, was desperately concerned that if her husband was idle for any period of time, depression would set in, he’d become argumentative, he’d become difficult. And she believed if you stuck him in the vice presidency, which at the time was this kind of gilded cage, his life would just, his energy would just fade out. Lodge actually got into a disagreement with Roosevelt's sister Bamie, who also really disliked the idea of her brother taking the vice presidency. And Lodge literally said to her, you know what, you're out of your head. And she threw him out of her house in Washington. And they were actually great friends, remained friends for her entire life. And then as we move into the presidency, there is a change in the tide, a changing of the guard, as I refer it to, where Roosevelt no longer is desperate for Lodge’s counsel. He would no longer write, dear Cabot, I need this, I need that, if you know someone who can help me with this or that. Roosevelt has the presidency. There was even a moment, in fact, where a journalist came up to Roosevelt soon after he occupied the office and he said, you know, Mr. President, we're all wondering, how are you going to deal with your relationship with Senator Lodge? Because we all know how close you are and is he going to have kind of a carte blanche to the White House? And Roosevelt looked at this guy and said, no, no, no, no, you don't understand. Lodge does not run me, I run him. And I think there was this underlining tension, there had always been this. Roosevelt had always been the junior partner. In fact, there was this joke that went around Washington where it was the firm of Lodge and Roosevelt. And Roosevelt, by making that comment, I think sent a message to everybody saying, I'm president, I make the decisions, nobody else does. And then there were just moments where Lodge was very much the politician, very much dependent on patronage for his state, kept trying to push Roosevelt to do certain things and I'll tell you one anecdote. There was a moment where Lodge wanted Roosevelt to write a proclamation for the hundredth anniversary of Brookline. And he wrote Roosevelt a letter asking him to do this and saying, in fact, oh, I told so and so you're going to do it. And Roosevelt writes back and says, my dear man, don't ever ask me to do something like that again. I get people asking me this all the time, I don't need to hear it from you. And Lodge writes back and says, oh, I was only kidding. Now, Grant, this was a man with no sense of humor. So the fact that he said he was only kidding and about patronage in politics, no, he was clearly taken aback by this, you know, this kind of push back of Theodore Roosevelt. And then there were also issues about where they stood politically. As we move through the presidency, Roosevelt becomes more progressive, he's not listening to Lodge as much, he's listening to people like James A. Garfield and other individuals within his cabinet who have a more progressive bent. And it's really irritating Lodge because he knows that Roosevelt is irritating the big money men who are conservatives in the Republican Party. And Lodge is terrified that the Republicans are going to lose their majority and it's going to be a disaster for the country. So Lodge is always playing defense, he's always trying to tell Roosevelt to calm down. And he goes to people, and forgive me for using a phrase that I think was attributed to, about President Trump, where people about President Trump would say, well, look, don't listen to what he says, watch what he does. And that was the same thing that Lodge communicated – T.R.’s bark is a lot worse than his bite.

GR: If you've just joined us, you're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. And my guest is the historian Laurence Jurdem. So today, I think Teddy Roosevelt is perhaps most positively remembered as an early conservationist and for his foundational role in preserving public lands and establishing national parks. Was that an interest that was shared between him and Lodge, or was that something where Lodge viewed that as too progressive using that public money in that way?

LJ: I never really came across anything about that. I would think that that was something that they shared because, as I said, Lodge loved going to his retreat and Nahant, which is a very kind of rustic, rural place where he could spend tons of time alone. It was a marvelous place where he could enjoy solitude. And I suspect that he shared Roosevelt's love of the outdoors, nature, I think he was unhappy about how rapidly things were moving along in terms of industry, in terms of the decline of morality. And he very much, I think, in his own way, Henry Cabot Lodge believed in this strenuous life idea. He encouraged his son, Bay Lodge, to go with T.R. on a tour of Yellowstone rather than attend his first semester at Harvard. So I think Lodge very much shared T.R.’s love of the outdoors and the rural environment of the natural world.

GR: We've only got about four or five minutes left or so, but I want to try to squeeze in three questions, if I could. And the first one is about Lodge. The Roosevelt name is quite well known, I think to most of us, Lodge, much less so, outside of political historians, I'm more aware of a later Lodge. But remind us of the political legacy of the Lodge family following the Henry Cabot Lodge that you write about.

LJ: Well, it is interesting because I think if you look at Henry Cabot Lodge Junior, who was a contemporary of John F. Kennedy's and served in the Senate for quite some time, was defeated by obviously, by JFK in a very famous Senate race. Lodge senior got to know Lodge Junior very well. They spent a lot of time together because Henry Cabot Lodge liked to boast that when he graduated Harvard, he was the youngest man to be married in his class. He was the youngest man to have children in his class, and he was the youngest man to have grandchildren. And they spent a lot of time together. And I know from what I've heard, (unintelligible) Junior was very protective of his grandfather's legacy. But if you look at any video clips of Henry Cabot Lodge Junior, he's very conversational, he's very relaxed, he's got a sense of humor, he's certainly very approachable. Everything his grandfather wasn't. And both men, Lodge in his own way, Henry Cabot Lodge was an internationalist. I know he's tarred as an isolationist, but there is a, he was unhappy with the League of Nations, not because of the idea in itself, but the fact that the United States was going to have a subservient role in it. And Lodge and Roosevelt believed the United States should lead in anything it does and obviously, Henry Cabot Lodge Junior was a tremendous internationalist. But both men shared this idea of noblesse oblige, you know, much is given, much is expected in this role of public service in American political life. And I think that was the legacy of the Henry Cabot Lodge Junior chose to follow.

GR: And this next question, it's a big one, but if you could just take it briefly so I can ask you the one last one I really want to squeeze in. But this one is, you know, this friendship, as you already mentioned, had its ups and downs. And one question thinking of today's polarized times is, does this friendship have anything to say to us about keeping friendships across political disagreements?

LJ: Yes. In fact even during 1912, which was really when these two men had their falling out, Lodge literally wrote Theodore Roosevelt after T.R. had become super progressive had advocated the recall of judges, something Henry Cabot Lodge absolutely couldn't stand. He said, you know what, because of our friendship, because it's so important to me, I'm sitting out this primary. And that shows you that friendship is more important than politics. And certainly that's something we can learn today.

GR: Yeah. And my last question is, you write that there friends up until Roosevelt's death in 1919. Did the two of them have a chance to say goodbye to each other before that happened? And what was that like?

LJ: Yes and no. You know, we don't know really what it's like. There was no notes that were taken on the last visit that Lodge made to Roosevelt, who was in Roosevelt Hospital, they sat together. We do not know what they talked about. We could imagine what they talked about in terms of history, the League of Nations was probably a huge debate, but Lodge looked forward to returning and spending time with Roosevelt once he was released in the hospital and he was going to be back at Sagamore Hill. Lodge had been there many times and loved the energy of the place. He loved all the children, loved all the animated behavior. And unfortunately, the only time he got back to Sagamore Hill was for the funeral.

GR: And so there wasn’t a moment where Roosevelt, in a sense, everybody knows he's going to die and you're having that last that last goodbye then, he didn't have that opportunity.

LJ: No, but his sister, one of Roosevelt's sisters, wrote Lodge and said, you need to get up here because he's very, very ill, and so Cabot did. Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, who was T.R.’s sister, also a good friend of Lodges and Nanny Lodge, encouraged Cabot to get up there and spend some time with him.

GR: Well, we'll have to leave it there. That was Laurence Jurdem. And again, his new book is titled, “The Rough Rider and the Professor: Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge and the Friendship That Changed American History” and it's a great story. Laurence, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.

LJ: Thanks, Grant. It was a great pleasure.

GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

Grant Reeher is Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is also creator, host and program director of “The Campbell Conversations” on WRVO, a weekly regional public affairs program featuring extended in-depth interviews with regional and national writers, politicians, activists, public officials, and business professionals.