Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich

(b. 1841)

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(b. Foster, Rhode Island, 6 Nov. 1841; d. New York City, 15 Apr. 1915)

US; member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives 1875–77, member of the US House of Representatives 1879–83, US Senator 1881–1911 Aldrich was educated at the East Greenwich academy, Rhode Island, after which he gained employment in the wholesale grocery trade with Walden and Wightman of Providence, Rhode Island. During the Civil War he enlisted in the Republican army but after only a few months' active service contracted typhoid fever and was medically discharged. Returning to his former employers, his business acumen soon gained him a partnership in the firm and election to directorships in a variety of banking, railroad, and public utility establishments in Providence.

Aldrich's success in business was complemented by a distinguished political career spanning over forty-five years. In 1869 he gained election as an independent Republican to the Providence Common Council, over which he presided 1972–3. In 1875 he was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives, was re-elected in 1876, and served as Speaker 1876–7. He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1878 and 1880, but, in 1881, before the end of his second term, the Rhode Island state legislature elected him US Senator to complete the term of the late General Ambrose E. Burnside. He represented Rhode Island in the Senate for the next thirty years.

During his long senatorial career, Aldrich became a dominant figure in Republican Party politics. He was recognized as the head of a clique of fellow Republicans known as the senate ‘oligarchy’ which succeeded in imposing its will on Republican congressmen in both Houses, directing legislation and dictating party policy.

Aldrich's particular sphere of interest was banking and public finance. He was associated with the introduction of several controversial tariff acts at the turn of the century, and with the 1909 Act which led to a split in the Republican Party, and with drafting the 1900 Gold Standard Act. In 1910 he did not seek re-election to the Senate but remained a prominent political figure as chairman of the national monetary commission.

Aldrich was a reticent man who made few concessions to public opinion and who was scornful of political rhetoric. He built his political career on his skill as a parliamentary strategist and a complete mastery of his brief in the field of public finance.

Subjects: Politics.

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