CHARLES EVANS HUGHES
Secretary of State; b. at Glens Falls, N. Y., Apr. 11, 1862; Educ. Colgate U., 1876-8; A. B., Brown U., 1881, A.M., 1884; LL.B., Columbia, 1884; (LL.D., Brown, 1906, Columbia, Knox, and Lafayette, 1907, Union, Colgate, 1908, George Washington, 1909, Williams College, Harvard, and Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1910, Yale Univ., 1915); admitted to N. Y. bar, 1884; prize fellowship, Columbia Law Sch., 1884-7; nominated for office of mayor of New York by Rep. Conv., 1905, but declined; gov. of N. Y. 2 terms, Jan. 1, 1907-Dec. 31, 1908, Jan. 1, 1909-Dec. 31, 1910; resigned, Oct. 6, 1910; apptd., May 2, 1910, and Oct. 10, 1910, became asso. justice Supreme Court of U. S.; nominated for President of U. S. in Rep. Nat. Conv., Chicago, June 10, 1916, and resigned from Supreme Court same day; Secretary of State, 1921 . . . 67 HOUSE, Edward Mandell,
"MAIS resiste-t-on a' la vertu? Les gens quin' eurent point de faiblesses sont terribles," observed Sylvestre Bonnard of the redoubtable Therese.
This fearsomeness of the good is an old story. Horace remarked it, when, walking about near Rome, pure of heart and free from sin, he met a wolf. The beast quailed before his virtue and ran away,--to bark at the statue of the she wolf giving suck to Romulus, by way of intelligent protest.
A similar prevalence of virtue and a similar romantic quality, where it is least to be expected, was disclosed in a recent encounter between Charles Evans Hughes, Secretary of State, and one of the irreconcilables, when Mr. Hughes, integer vita scelerisque purus had just commissioned Colonel George Harvey to take the seat once occupied by Woodrow Wilson in the Supreme Council.
When the news of this appointment reached the
Capitol, Senator Brandegee, of Connecticut, hurried down to that structure across the street from the White House whose architectural style so markedly resembles the literary style of President Harding, the State War and Navy Building, official residence of Mr. Hughes.
Harvey being, in a sort, Brandegee's ambassador to the Court of Saint James, the Senator's object was to tell Mr. Hughes what Harvey should do in the Supreme Council. Mr. Brandegee has the gift of direct and forceful speech. In his earnestness, he dispenses with the elegancies and amenities. The upper ranges of his voice are not conciliatory.
In this tone, he developed views regarding this country's foreign relations with which Mr. Hughes could not agree. The Secretary of State combated the Senator from Connecticut precisely as he combats counsel of the other side when a $500,000 fee is at stake. The discussion was energetic and divergent.
Mr. Brandegee hurried back to the Capitol and summoned other senators to his office, all those who were especially concerned about the exposure of Colonel Harvey to European entanglements.
He was excited. His voice was nasal. His language, in that select gathering, did not have to be parliamentary. He told the senators that they could expect the Versailles treaty by the next White House messenger; that "that whiskered, but nothing lies like direct quotes,--that "that whiskered" Secretary of State would soon get us into the League of Nations, being able for his purposes to wind President Harding about his little finger!
His excitement in such an emergency naturally communicated itself to his hearers. What to do? It was unanimously decided that the only adequate course was for Senator Henry Cabot Lodge to resign as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, by way of protest.
Henry Cabot Lodge running away from his chairmanship would be Henry Cabot Lodge behaving as romantically as Horace's wolf. The good are terrible, as Anatole France said in the words with which this sketch begins. It is not so much that you can not resist them, as that they lead you to make such fools of yourselves.
Mr. Hughes prevails, however, not merely by his virtue, but by his intelligence. His is the best mind in Washington; to this everyone agrees, and it is not excessive praise, for minds are not common in the Government.
Mr. Harding has not a remarkable one, the people having decided by seven million majority that it was best not to have one in the White House, choosing instead, a good heart, excellent intentions, and reasonable common sense. Mr. Hoover has a fine business instinct, great but diffused mental energy, but hardly an organized mind. From this point the Cabinet grades down to the Secretary of Labor, who, when Samuel Gompers, Jr., his Chief Clerk, addressed him before visitors as, "Mr. Secretary," said, "Please don't call me, 'Mr. Secretary,' Sam. Call me, 'Jim.' I'm more used to it."
"Call me Jim" is the mental sea level of the Administration, by which altitudes are measured, so let us not exalt Mr. Hughes' mind unduly, but merely indicate what its habits are. Its operations were described to me by a member of the Cabinet, who said that no matter what subject was up for discussion at a Cabinet meeting, it was always the Secretary of State who said the final convincing word about it, summing it all up, saying what everyone else had been trying to say but no one else had entirely succeeded in saying, simplifying it, and all with an air of service, not of self-assertion.
Mr. Harding, speaking to an intimate friend, said he had "two strong advisers,--Hughes and Hoover."
It is a satisfaction, even though it is not a delight, to come in contact with a mind like Mr. Hughes'; it is so definite, so hard and firm and palpable. You feel sure that it rests somewhere on the eternal verities. It is never agnostic. It has none of the malaise of the twentieth century. Mr. Justice Brandeis, when Mr. Hughes was governor of New York and a reformer and progressive, said of him, "His is the most enlightened mind of the eighteenth century."
I think the Justice put it a century or two too late, for by the eighteenth century skepticism had begun to undermine those firm foundations of belief which Mr. Hughes still possesses. For him a straight line is the shortest distance between two points,--Einstein to the contrary, notwithstanding.
Conclusions rest upon the absolute rock of principle, as morality for his preacher father rested upon the absolute rock of the Ten Commandments. There is no doubt, no uncertainty, no nuance, no on the one hand, on the other, no discursiveness, no yielding to the seductions of fancy, but a stern keeping of the faith of the syllogism; a thing is so or it is not so. Mr. Hughes never hesitates. He never says, "I must think about that." He has thought about it. Or he turns instantly to his Principle and has the answer.
You speak of Mr. Hughes to ten men in the Capitol, and nine of them will say to you, "Of course it is easy to understand; his is the one real mind in Washington."
Everyone is impressed, for, starting with no other initiation into the mysteries of foreign relations than having had a father born in Wales and having spent his vacations in England, probably in the lake region studying the topography of Wordsworth's poetry,--a certain oft detected resemblance to Wilson must make Wordsworth his favorite poet, as he was Wilson's,--in ten days was he not a great Secretary of State; and in three months the greatest Secretary of State? To be sure, back of him was the strongest nation on the earth, left so by the war, the one nation with resources, the creditor of all the others, to which a successful foreign policy would be naturally easy if it could only decide what that policy should be.
It was left to Mr. Hughes to say what it should be. His discovery of the word "interests," amazed Washington; it was so obvious, so simple that no one else had thought of it. Mr. Hughes' mind works like that;--hard, cold, unemotional, not to be turned aside, it simplifies everything, whether it be a treaty fight that has confused everyone else in the land, or a rambling Cabinet discussion; whether it be the mess in which the war left Europe, or the chaos in which watchful waiting left Mexico. His is a mind that delights in formulae. He has one for Europe. He has one for Mexico. It is an analytical, not a synthetical mind, a lawyer's mind, not a creator's, like Wilson's, with, perhaps it may turn out, a fatal habit of oversimplification. Life is not a simple thing after all.
But effective simplification is instantly overwhelming; and he made his brief announcement, a few days after taking office, that the United States had won certain things as a belligerent, that it had not got them, that he was going after them, that other countries could expect nothing from us until they had recognized our rights and our interests; he had completely routed the Senate, which had been opposing Wilson's ideals with certain ideals of its own, pitting Washington's farewell address against "breaking the heart of the world," in a mussy statement of sentimentality.
Mr. Hughes talked of islands and oil and dollars; and the country came to its senses. Mr. Wilson had pictured us going into world affairs as an international benefactor; it was sobby and suggested a strain on our pocketbooks. The Senate had pictured us staying out of them because our fathers had warned us to stay out and because the international confidence men would cheat us; it was Sunday-school-booky and unflattering. Mr. Hughes said we should go in to the extent of obtaining what was ours, and that we should stay out to the extent of keeping the others from obtaining what certainly was not theirs. It sounded grown-up; as a Nation we belonged not to the sob sisterhood, neither were we tied to the apron string of the Mothers of the Constitution.
Our national self-respect was restored. Truly, it required a mind to discover "interests" in the cloud of words that Mr. Wilson and the Senate had raised. Of course, it is all clear now, when everybody scorns idealism and talks glibly of interests. "Hobbs hints blue, straight he turtle eats; Nobbs prints blue, claret crowns his cup." But it was Hughes who "fished the murex up," who pulled "interests" out of the deep blue sea of verbal fuddlement.
And thinking of our dollars, thanks to Mr. Hughes, we are made sane and whole, clear-sighted and unafraid, standing erect among the nations of the earth asking lustily for Yap.
Our foreign relations had been the subject of passion. Mr. Hughes made them the subject of reason. Mr. Wilson could think of nothing but his hatred of Lodge, which rendered an agreement with the Senate impossible, and his hatred of Lloyd George and Marshal Foch, which rendered cooperation with the Allies and through it achievements in the foreign field that would have reconciled the public to his policies, equally impossible.
Mr. Hughes looked at his task objectively. He saw the power of the United States. He saw how easy it was to exert that power diplomatically. He saw the simple and immediate concerns of the United States. Foch says that he won the war, "by smoking his pipe," meaning by keeping cool and regarding his means and ends with the same detachment with which he would study an old campaign of Napoleon. I do not know on what sedative Mr. Hughes wins his diplomatic victories, as he does not smoke a pipe;--perhaps by reading the Sunday School Times. But like the French Marshal, he knows the secret of keeping his head. It is a great quality of mind not to lose it when you most need it. Mr. Hughes has it. Perhaps this is why Washington remarks his mind; he always has it with him.
"I am not thinking of myself in my work here," he said once. "I don't care about immediate acclaim. I am counsel for the people of this country. If a generation from now they think their interests have been well represented, that will be enough."
He is coldly objective.
Mr. Hughes comes by his coolness naturally. He was born to it, which is the surest way to come by anything. Men have hated him for it, coolness being a disconcerting quality, ever since he emerged from obscurity in New York during the insurance investigation, calling it his "coldness" and adding by way of good measure the further specification, his "selfishness."
If the last characterization is to stand, it should be amended to read, his "enlightened selfishness." He has a good eye for his own interests. Roosevelt disliked him for it, because when governor and again when candidate for president, he refused to gravitate into the Roosevelt solar system, taking up his orbit like the rest of them about the Colonel. But think what happened to that system when the great sun of it went out!
His political associates in New York hated him, accused him of being "for nothing but Hughes," when he quit them in the fight "to hand the government back to the people" and went, on the invitation of President Taft, upon the Supreme Bench. But it was his only way out. If he had gone on working with them, he would still be "handing the government back to the people" along with,--but who were the great figures of 1910? He knows an expiring issue and its embarrassments by an unerring instinct. He finds a new one, such as "our national interests," with as sure a sense.
It is worth while casting a glance at him "smoking his pipe," when other real and false opportunities presented themselves to him; one finds discrimination. He refuses a Republican nomination for Mayor of New York City when there is not a chance of electing a Republican Mayor of New York City. He accepts a Republican nomination for Governor of New York State, when the putting up of Hearst as the Democratic candidate makes the election of a Republican as Governor of New York State morally certain. He refuses the Republican nomination for President, in 1912, when another, viewing himself and his party less objectively, through vanity perhaps, might have believed that his own nomination was the one thing needed to prevent that year's Republican cataclysm. Four years later he accepts the Republican nomination for President, when as the result showed, there is at least a reasonable chance to win. He takes the post of Secretary of State when neglected opportunities lie ready to his hand and when the force of world events requires little more than his intelligent acquiescence to bring him diplomatic success.
His discovery of "interests" was no accident. It sprang from that hard unemotional simplifying habit of his mind.
When one writes of Mr. Hughes, men ask, pardonably, "Which Mr. Hughes? The old Mr. Hughes, or the new Mr. Hughes?" for he has had, as the literary critics would say, his earlier and his later manner.
But it is chiefly manner, a smile recently achieved, a different way of wearing the beard, a little less of the stern moralist, a little more of the man of the world. A connoisseur of Hughes, who has studied him for nearly twenty years, after a recent observation, pronounced judgment: "It's the same Hughes, a trifle less cold, but just as dry." And the Secretary of State himself, when one of the weeklies contained an article on "The New Mr. Hughes," remarked, "People did not understand me then, that is all."
These two eminent authorities being substantially agreed for the first time during many divergent years, there must be something in it. Mr. Hughes must be a gradually emerging personality. You take that new warmth, recently detected; Mr. Hughes himself knows it was always there. It is like the light ray of a star which has needed a million years to reach the earth; it was always there but it required a long time to get across.
Then the beard:--when Mr. Hughes was "handing the government back to the people" in New York, it was a preacher's beard; you might have encountered its like anywhere among the circuit riders. Now it is a foreign secretary's beard; you might encounter it in any European capital,--a world statesman's beard. The change of beard reveals the smile, which was probably always there, and the splendid large teeth. The nose, standing out in bolder relief, is handsomer and more distinguished. You see more of Mr. Hughes than you used to and you gain by the improved vision.
Something has dropped from him, however, beside the ends of the whiskers. I met him first when he was about to run for President in 1916. An icy veil, like frozen mist, seemed to hang between us. We talked through it ineffectively. When I saw him again as Secretary of State, that chill barrier had fallen away; to recur to my figure, he gradually emerges.
Mr. Hughes of the later manner is, however, I am persuaded after long familiarity with his career, more truly Hughesian than the Hughes of the earlier manner; just as the Henry James of the later manner is more explicitly Jamesian than the James of the earlier manner, and the Cabot Lodge of the present is much more irretrievably Cabotian than the Cabot Lodge who years ago stood with reluctant feet where the twin paths of scholarship and politics meet,--and part.
I should say that Mr. Hughes was Bryan plus the advantages, which Mr. Bryan never enjoyed, of a correct Republican upbringing and a mind. The Republican upbringing and the mind have come of late years to preponderate. Looking at Mr. Hughes to-day, you could not tell him from a Republican, except perhaps by his mind, though such esoteric Republicans as Brandegee, Cabot Lodge, and Knox profess an ability to distinguish.
But when he was "handing the government back to the people" in New York, there was too much Bryan about him. The Republicans would have none of him, except as a choice of evils,--the greater evil being defeat. They called him ribald names. They referred to him scornfully as "Wilson with whiskers," when they ran him, reluctantly, for the Presidency in 1916. His opponent being also of the Bryan school, and a minister's son at that, Hughes striving for an issue, failed to make it clear which was which, a doubt that remained until the last vote from California was finally counted after the election. This was the Mr. Hughes of the earlier manner.
Latterly, Mr. Hughes has succeeded in establishing the distinction which he did not succeed in making during that campaign. When he confronted the task of Secretary of State, he carefully studied the international career of Woodrow Wilson, as a sort of inverse Napoleon, a sort of diplomatic bad example.
"This," he said to himself, "was a mistake of Wilson," and he noted it. "And this," he observed thoughtfully, "was another mistake of Wilson. I shall avoid it." "This," he again impressed on his memory, "was where Lloyd George and Clemenceau trapped him. I shall keep out of that pit."
His head, like a book of etiquette, is full of "Don'ts," diplomatic "Don'ts," all deduced from the experience of Wilson.
The former President met Europe face to face. Mr. Hughes thanks his stars for the breadth of the Atlantic. The former President put his League of Nations first on his program. Mr. Hughes puts his League of Nations last, to be set up after every other question is settled.
The former President tried to sell the Country pure idealism. Now as a people we have the habit of wars in which we seek nothing, but after which, in spite of ourselves, a little territory, a few islands, or a region out of which we subsequently carve half a dozen States, is found adhering to us. Mr. Wilson offered us a war in which, of course, we sought nothing and found, at the end of it, not the customary few trifles of territory, but the whole embarrassing, beggarly world adhering to us. The thumbscrew and the rack could not wring from Mr. Hughes the admission that we are after anything more lofty than our interests.
One of the present Secretary's "Don'ts" of similar derivation is "Don't have a fight with the Senate unless you make sure first that you have the public with you."
Mr. Hughes does not run away from fights; he likes them. But believing God to be on the side with the most battalions, and intending scrupulously to observe this last "Don't," in order to secure the necessary popular support, he is as Secretary of State, "handing the government back to the people," just as he did when governor,--a little less self-consciously, perhaps, a little less noisily, but still none the less truly.
He is the most democratic Secretary of State this Country has ever had, and this includes Bryan to whose school, as has just been remarked, he originally belonged. If we are ever to have democratic control of foreign relations, it will be by the methods of Mr. Hughes, because of the training and beliefs of Mr. Hughes, and as a consequence of the most undemocratic control of foreign relations which our Constitution attempted to fasten upon us.
A successful foreign policy requires public understanding and support. The makers of the Constitution established in our government a nice balance of powers between the various departments, beautifully adjusted until someone thought of putting a stone into one side of the balance. That stone is the people. The Fathers of the Constitution had not noticed it. The executive put it into its end of the balance some years ago, and the legislative has been kicking the beam ever since. One nice bit of balancing was that between the Senate and the Executive on treaty making. In foreign relations, the President can do everything, and he can do nothing without the approval of two thirds of the Senate. It is a nice balance, which broke the heart of John Hay, frittered away the sentimentalities of Mr. Bryan, and destroyed Mr. Wilson.
No one ever thought of putting the stone into it until the Senate did so two years ago, by discussing the Versailles treaty in the open, right before the public. The people got into the scale, and Mr. Wilson hit the sky.
Mr. Hughes observed what happened. He is determined that the stone this time shall go in on his end of the balance. He talks to the country daily. He takes the people into his confidence, telling all that can be told and as soon as it can be told. He makes foreign relations hold front pages with the Stillman divorce case. He makes no step without carrying the country with him. He comes as near conducting a daily referendum on what we shall do for our "interests" as in a country so big as ours can be done; and that is democratic control of foreign relations, initiated by the Senate, for its own undoing.
Into that balance where he is placing the stone, he will put more of mankind's destinies than any other man on earth holds in his hands to-day. His has been a long way up from the shy, sensitive youth that one who knew him when he was beginning the law describes to me. He was then unimaginably awkward, incapable of unbending, a wet blanket socially. An immense effort of will has gone into fashioning the agreeable and habitual diner-out of to-day, into profiting by the mistakes of the New York governorship, of the campaign of 1916.
One sees still the traces of the early stiffness; the face is sensitive; the eyes drop, seldom meeting yours squarely; when they do, they are the mild eyes of the Church! I suppose the early experiences of the Church help him.
His attitude toward Colonel Harvey's and other of the President's diplomatic appointments takes its color from his good father's attitude toward the problem of evil. God put evil in the world, and it is not for man to question. The President sends the Harveys abroad; they are not Mr. Hughes', but his own personal representatives. It is not for Mr. Hughes to question.
He grows a better Republican every day. And the Republicans of the Senate are not reconciled. They feel like the man who saw the hippopotamus:
If he should stay to tea, I thought, There won't be much for us.
There won't be much for them. Enthusiasm grows among them over his admirable fitness for reinterment on the Supreme Bench.
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