Aldrich, Nelson Wilmarth

Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich (1841-1915) was the powerful senior Republican Senator (1881-1911) from Rhode Island during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. The two men tangled when Aldrich blocked Roosevelt’s progressive legislative initiatives.

Aldrich was born in the small town of Foster, Rhode Island, to Abby Burgess and Anan Aldrich. After attending local schools, he rose from clerk to partner in a wholesale grocery business before enlisting in the Rhode Island National Guard. After the Civil War, Aldrich married Abigail Pearce Chapman Greene and began his career in politics. He won election to the Foster city council, and then the Rhode Island State Legislature in 1875 and 1876. In March 1879 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He resigned in 1881 to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate on October 4, 1881. He remained in the upper house until 1911, becoming an expert on finances and a strong protectionist in his position as chair of the Senate Finance Committee. As a conservative Republican, he opposed most Progressive reforms. While he helped ensure the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, he stalled the federal income tax bill because he considered it too left-leaning.

More to his liking was the Aldrich-Vreeland Act, signed by President Roosevelt in 1908. The bill’s purpose was to end the nation’s unpredictable economic booms and busts. It did so through banking reforms carried out by a newly created National Monetary Commission. Senator Aldrich chaired the commission. In 1909 he co-sponsored the Payne-Aldrich tariff, a contentious bill which Progressives disliked but which President William Taft signed.

As Senator, Aldrich chaired the Committee on Transportation Routes to the Seaboard (1883-1887), the Committee on Rules (1887-1893), the Select Committee on Corporations Organized in the District of Columbia (1893-1895), and the Committee on Finance (1897-1908). Senator Aldrich retired from politics in early 1911 and died in New York City four years later.

The Aldriches had ten children, including a daughter, Abby, who married John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Their son, Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, became governor of New York. He was also an unsuccessful presidential candidate before serving as Gerald Ford’s vice president.

At the Keyboard 

At the Keyboard, Puck Magazine, March 15, 1905