From Boomers to Millennials: A Modern US History Podcast

Episode 17B - Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.: 10-Minute Profile

September 07, 2022 Logan Rogers Season 3
From Boomers to Millennials: A Modern US History Podcast
Episode 17B - Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.: 10-Minute Profile
Show Notes Transcript

This episode debuts a new format of very brief profiles of interesting historical figures that we haven't given sufficient attention to in regular episodes. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. is a prime example of the Northeastern elites who had a disproportionate (albeit declining) amount of power in mid-20th Century America. Both of Lodge Junior's parents were descended from Republican Senators, so you could say politics was in their blood. Lodge launched a successful political career during the 1930s. When Lodge, who was a Moderate Republican,  lost his Massachusetts US Senate seat to John F. Kennedy in 1952, he pivoted to a diplomatic career. He became US Ambassador to the United Nations under President Eisenhower. He then served as Richard Nixon's running-mate in the razor-thin 1960 presidential election. After losing that race, his former opponent President Kennedy appointed Lodge to serve as Ambassador to South Vietnam, & Lodge remained involved in diplomatic negotiations in Southeast Asia for the remainder of the disastrous Vietnam conflict. The Lodge family is a prime example of a New England WASP political dynasty, one that never achieved the glamour & fame gained by the Kennedys, but which nevertheless wielded considerable power.

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            “From Boomers to Millennials” is a modern US history podcast, providing a fresh look at our history since 1946. Welcome to Episode 17B, also known as “Henry Cabot Lodge Junior: 10 Minute Profile.” This is the debut of a new episode format for our show. In our recent episode on Robert F. Kennedy, we left a lengthy tangent profiling his brother John’s 1952 opponent, Henry Cabot Lodge Junior, on the cutting-room floor. We recovered & expanded that content, & turned it into this episode. This is going to be the first of a series of occasional supplemental episodes that will provide a brief profile of an interesting historical figure from modern US history who deserves more attention. And don’t worry – future installments of the 10-minute profile format will include profiles of people who were not rich & powerful white male politicians like Lodge. Before we start our profile, I want to briefly mention current events. We try not to overdo this, because we don’t want our episodes to seem dated to future listeners, but part of the concept of our show is to reconsider historic events in the light of contemporary realities. This being the case, I wanted to acknowledge that there’s been a lot going on. We’ve seen a new major land war in Europe, a series of controversial Supreme Court rulings dramatically breaking with past precedents, & the most intensive Congressional investigation of a past president since the Watergate era. We’ve seen economic problems like rising inflation & high gas prices that also recall events of the 1970s. We are not going to discuss such matters today, but future episodes will compare & contrast today’s headline news with events within our historical narrative.


            Each of our 10-minute profiles will start out with this question: what makes this person interesting & significant? In the case of Lodge, he is a prime example of the old-money Northeastern White Anglo-Saxon Protestants or “WASPs” who were sometimes labelled by their populist detractors as the “Eastern Establishment.” This group of people had disproportionate power in the 20th Century USA. These American aristocrats had a variety of political views: they were New Deal Democrats like President Franklin Roosevelt & his Attorney General Francis Biddle, centrist Cold Warriors like Dean Acheson & McGeorge Bundy, Moderate Republicans like Henry Cabot Lodge Junior & Nelson Rockefeller, and conservatives, like a young go-getter Congressman named George Bush. But all of them benefitted from the money, status, & social connections that they inherited from their family legacies. Over the course of the 20th Century, the rise of meritocracy would reduce, but not eliminate, the influence of these Old Money families in American life.


Henry Cabot Lodge Junior was born in Massachusetts during 1902. Both of his parents came from prominent families. His father was George Cabot Lodge, a writer who died of a heart attack at the shockingly young age of 35. Lodge Junior’s mother was Mathilde Elizabeth Frelinghuysen, who was the granddaughter of Republican Senator from New Jersey. Henry Cabot Lodge Junior’s paternal grandfather was another Republican Senator, named Henry Cabot Lodge Senior. Well, at the time, he was just known as Henry Cabot Lodge, but we will refer to him as Lodge Senior to distinguish him from the main subject of our profile. Lodge Senior’s great-grandfather had been George Cabot, who, during the early years of the American Republic, had been a close political ally of Alexander Hamilton as a Federalist Senator from Massachusetts during the 1790s. Powerful families like Lodge Junior’s ancestors the Cabots were known as “Boston Brahmins,” a nickname derived from the Brahmins who were the highest-ranking group in India’s traditional Hindu caste system. The Boston Brahmins were select Anglo-Saxon Protestant families, often descended from the Puritans & other early settlers of New England, who had remained prosperous & socially prominent for generations. The status of the Cabot family, is reflected in this famous humorous rhyme: (Quote) “And this is good old Boston, The home of the bean & the cod, Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots, And the Cabots talk only to God” (close quote).


 Henry Cabot Lodge Senior is perhaps the most famous member of the Lodge political family. He had a legendary rivalry with President Woodrow Wilson during the late 1910s as the leader of a US Senate faction that opposed the Treaty of Versailles that would have made the USA a member of the League of Nations in the aftermath of World War I. Lodge Senior insisted that Wilson make changes to the Treaty in order protect American sovereignty; he feared joining the League of Nations might commit the USA to entering into international conflicts that were not in its self-interest. Wilson stubbornly refused to modify the Treaty in any way. Instead, the president thought he could pressure the Senate by rallying popular support. Woodrow Wilson attempted this by embarking on a grueling national speaking tour promoting the Treaty & the League in 1919. However, the president collapsed with a stroke after giving a speech in Pueblo, Colorado, & his functioning was much diminished after that point. The First Lady, Edith Wilson, from that point forward had a very heavy influence over Woodrow; she controlled who the president would see & what documents he would read. So, in an indirect way, you could say that Lodge Senior’s fiery opposition to Woodrow Wilson contributed to Edith Wilson emerging as what some consider the USA’s de facto first female Chief Executive. One more interesting thing about Lodge Senior; in 1916, he had successfully defended his Senate seat against an opponent who was none other than JFK’s maternal grandfather John Fitzgerald, who was serving as the Democratic Mayor of Boston at the time. The influence of these families continued into the next generation, & the 1916 Senate race was an uncanny precursor of the 1952 race between the two candidates’ grandsons John Fitzgerald Kennedy & Henry Cabot Lodge Junior. 


Now, Lodge Junior had a privileged childhood & attended St. Alban’s, a preppy boarding school in Washington DC. He then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University. Just kidding, he went to Harvard, of course! He graduated “cum laude,” with the distinction of finishing in the top quartile of his graduating class. In 1926, he married Emily Sears, who was the daughter of a wealthy doctor. Lodge then supported his new family by finding a job as a journalist. During the 1930s, Lodge went into politics & successfully stood for election to the Massachusetts State Legislature. The Thirties were not a good decade for Republicans nationwide, but the GOP remained strong in parts of New England, & in 1936, Lodge Junior upset incumbent Democrat James Michael Curley in order to get a seat in the United States Senate. Curley was Catholic & the son of Irish immigrants, so once again we see Massachusetts politics as a sort of ethnic rivalry between Anglo-Saxon Protestant Republicans & Irish Catholic Democrats. In the 1940s, Senator Lodge served in World War II while still in office. The US government issued an order in 1944 stating that enlisted members of Congress had to return to Washington DC from overseas service. Instead of leaving his post, Lodge Junior resigned from the Senate in order to keep serving in the war, becoming the first Senator to do so since the Civil War era. Lodge, like his 1952 opponent JFK, became a decorated war hero. Unlike Kennedy, he served on the European front; like many elite Northeastern Americans, Lodge had previously studied in Paris, & during his wartime service in France, he used his extensive knowledge of French to help US forces communicate with the locals.


At the war’s end, Lodge returned to the USA. In the 1946 Congressional elections, which were strong for Republicans (see Episode 1), he recaptured his Senate seat by defeating another incumbent Democratic Senator. In 1952, he supported General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s efforts to win the Republican presidential nomination, opposing the conservative GOP faction seeking to nominate Senator Robert Taft (see Episode 7). After he lost his Senate seat to JFK in ’52 (see Episode 17A), President Eisenhower appointed Lodge Junior as the US ambassador to the United Nations, which is ironic considering his grandfather’s fame for opposing the UN’s predecessor the League of Nations. As ambassador to the UN, Lodge Junior defended Ike’s tough Anti-Communist Cold War policies. Lodge also profited from some of those policies; when a CIA coup overthrew the democratically-elected government of Guatemala in 1954 (see Episode 9), Lodge was a major stockholder in the United Fruit Company that had lobbied the Americans to oust the left-wing Guatemalan regime that was trying to nationalize company property there. On a less shameful note, Lodge served as Nikita Khrushchev’s American handler when the Soviet Premier toured the USA in 1959, during a thaw in the Cold War. Lodge & Khrushchev, two men from wildly different backgrounds, became friendly with each other during this time (see Episode 14). 


Lodge Junior’s next partnership would be with Khrushchev’s opponent in the famous Kitchen Debate, Richard M. Nixon. As you may recall from Episode 16, Nixon chose Lodge as his running-mate in the 1960 presidential campaign in order to appease the Northeastern Moderate wing of the Republican Party. Lodge’s relationship with Nixon was sometimes a rocky one. While campaigning for the Nixon-Lodge ticket before a Black audience in Harlem, Lodge Junior told the crowd that Nixon planned to appoint at least one African-American to his presidential cabinet. When Nixon heard about this remark, he was furious. He had not made any such pledge & he had not approved Lodge’s statement. Nixon believed that Lodge’s pandering to Black voters had cost him votes among whites in the South, & possibly cost him the presidency in the razor-thin election. The Democratic victory in that November 1960 election essentially meant that Henry Cabot Lodge Junior had lost to John F. Kennedy for a second time. But there weren’t too many hard feelings between the two men. JFK crossed party lines to appoint Lodge as Ambassador to South Vietnam in 1963. After Lodge left that challenging task in order to embark upon an ill-fated attempt to run for president in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered Lodge back to Vietnam as ambassador in 1965. Under LBJ, Lodge’s posting only got more difficult, because the Johnson Administration escalated the Vietnam War dramatically, but as the years went by, the US forces got no closer to victory. After getting a brief reprieve from the Vietnam conflict in the form of a couple of European ambassadorships, Lodge returned to the diplomatic fray by serving as the head of the US delegation that signed the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam in 1973, finally bringing an end to that terrible conflict. That agreement may have given him some closure on a most challenging chapter in his long career as a government official. Lodge Junior retired from public life during the 1980s, & he died in Massachusetts after a long illness in 1985. He was survived by his widow Emily, & his two sons. Interestingly, one son, George Cabot Lodge II, had graduated from Harvard (obviously) in 1950 & then became a federal civil servant who in 1962 followed family tradition by running for Senate in Massachusetts against, you guessed it, a Kennedy.  After George Cabot Lodge was easily defeated by Ted Kennedy, he became a professor at Harvard Business School. The Lodges remained part of New England’s de facto aristocracy, but the family dynasty never captured the celebrity status & the heights of power achieved by the more colorful Kennedys. This concludes our first 10-minute profile. Thank you for listening, & you can provide feedback on this episode on our socials or via email at Take care, everybody.