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Mr. Speaker!: The Life and Times of Thomas B. Reed The Man Who Broke the Filibuster Hardcover – May 10, 2011
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Advance Praise for
“Thomas Reed—Czar Reed, the all-powerful Speaker of the House at the end of the 19th century—was an architect of the modern American state. Sadly, he has been lost to history. But in this lively, intelligent biography, James Grant brings him back, with gusto, humor, and a sense of tragedy.”
--Evan Thomas, author of The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst and the Rush to Empire, 1898
“No period in American history is more colorful or relevant to our own—for better and worse—than the Gilded Age. James Grant brings it all memorably to life: Mugwumps and Half-Breeds, congressmen of flamboyant plumage for sale, not to mention a political process frozen in partisanship. Looming above it all, literally larger than life, is Thomas B. Reed, perhaps the most fascinating politician you’ve never heard of. A hero to young Theodore Roosevelt, as Speaker of the House Reed singlehandedly crushed the filibuster. (One is tempted to say, Boy do we need him now). At the same time, Reed’s erudition and stinging wit may well have cost him the White House. In the end, his ambition yielded to his principles, prompting him to resign the speakership rather than endorse the imperial vision of his fellow Republicans. It’s taken a century, but Reed at last has a biographer equal to his story.”
--Richard Norton Smith, author of The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R.
McCormick, 1880-1955 and Scholar-in-Residence of History and Public Policy at George
About the Author
James Grant is the founder of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, a leading journal on financial markets, which he has published since 1983. He is the author of seven books covering both financial history and biography. Grant’s journalism has been featured in Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Foreign Affairs. He has appeared on 60 Minutes, Jim Lehrer’s News Hour, and CBS Evening News.
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Realizing that he was at odds with both sides in the House on the new imperialism, he resigned and retired to his native Portland Maine.
At least one other reviewer was a little disappointed in how much of the book was devoted to the events and issues of the post-Civil War/pre-20th century era. I would respectfully disagree with that criticism. Those issues- primarily economic- seem to have been largely forgotten today but those issues both shaped Reed and were shaped by him. To gloss over or even devote less time to them would make this biography a lesser work.
Grant does a pretty good job at detailing Reed's early life in Portland, Maine to his college years at Bowdoin College. Graduating on the eve of the Civil War (1860) Reed would find himself going to California (unknown why) where he taught Latin and mathematics. Despite being in California the war was front and center for many people. Being a staunch unionist Reed found himself engaging in the political discourse of the time and while in California, he eventually studied/passed the bar to practice law. He didn't stay long in California and would eventually return eastward where he joined the Union Army during the tail end of the war on a naval vessel (USS Sybil) in the Mississippi. Finishing the duration of the war without seeing much action, Reed returned to Maine where he would practice law and eventually enter state politics and later served as the attorney general of Maine where a Daniel Sickles type murder case became a milestone victory for Reed as a prosecutor.
Grant also gives us a detailed background into this period from the Resumption Act of 1869 to the turbulent times of the 1870s and does a good job placing Reed in context. While he achieved success in state politics, by the mid 1870's Reed embarked on the national scene with his election to the House of Representatives where Grant details his first major assignment on the Potter Committee where he established himself as a skilled orator while investigating voter fraud in the 1876 elections.
Throughout his time spent in the House, Reed was known for his stance on tariff protection and a firm advocate of a sound currency (gold standard). As grant illustrated, over the years Reed partook in the monetary debates during the day taking on the populists who advocated for the use of silver in monetary exchange to his support in protecting American business from foreign competition. Reed was also known to defend the voting rights of African Americans and was in support of women's suffrage (the only policy measure during his career Reed's wife disagreed with him).
This time period was also marred by what Reed believed to be the failure of the House to get the business of the people done. The minority party held considerable power in the House to filibuster and stall the business to be conducted as illustrated by Grant. In his ascendency through the ranks of the House, Reed proved himself as a man of superior intellect with a rhetorical gift that helped him acquire the position of Speaker of the House by the 1890s. Eventually earning the nickname Czar Reed, having recognized the inefficiency and problems of the House to "conduct the people's business" (paraphrasing) Reed set out to change the parliamentary rules of the House limiting the ability for the minority to filibuster, etc. Reed's rules would eventually be adopted as Reed predicted after losing the speakership after two years (retaining it again in the next elections) as the Democrats took over power (Grant does an excellent job in describing how Reed positioned himself as the minority to keep much of the rules intact).
After retaining the speakership, a position Reed would hold until his resignation, Grant goes on detailing Reed's career up until the boisterous times leading up to the Spanish-American War. By the mid to late 1890s, tensions between America and Spain grew over the rebellion on the island of Cuba. Reed was concerned over the growing threats of war between the nations even though negotiations between the two nations were underway. However with the sinking of the USS Maine, the war hawks were out in full as war seemed imminent. Reed as Grant reports did everything in his power to prevent war by refusing to allow various policy measures to be voted on, but eventually he lost that battle and America went to war. Along with the calls of war were the aspirations of men like Teddy Roosevelt, Lodge, etc. to see America expand its boarders to include the island nation of Hawaii, parts of Cuba, and the Philippines (measures Reed opposed with a small minority). Reed became disillusioned with a party he served his entire life, when the country adopted resolutions to annex those lands mentioned above and Reed decided to resign as Speaker of the House giving no reason for doing so and living out the rest of his life as a lawyer.
James Grant did an excellent job in bringing back for the forefront of history the life and times of the little talked about Speaker Thomas B. Reed. Reed had a tremendous impact on the way business is now conducted in the House of Representatives and this biography by Grant does an excellent job of presenting the details surrounding that change. Mr. Speaker: The Life and Times of Thomas B. Reed The Man Who Broke The Filibuster is definitely recommended.