Click Here To Learn More About John McDonald
With our neighbor's primary fast approaching there's been all kinds if stories in the media about politics and politicians. Like I often do after reading one such story, I started thinking about some of the great politicians in Maine's past.
Did you know that former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and Portland native Thomas Brackett “Czar” Reed stood 6-foot-3 and tipped the scales at over 300 pounds? I bet the combined weight of our entire delegation in congress today doesn't weigh-in at much more than that.
Reed acquired his nickname because of the way he ruled Congress. He was - by any measure - a big man. In our present age when so many people are obsessed with things like physical appearance Reed might not be as successful in electoral politics as he was in the 1870s.
In an attempt at flattery someone political hack once called Reed a “true statesman,” and Reed said, "A statesman is a successful politician who is dead, so please don't rush me."
Years ago up in Poland they used to tell the story about the time Reed was at the Inn at Poland Spring trying to do something healthy for himself. After a few days he got tired of all the fresh air and healthy stuff and wanted to return to Portland, so he telegraphed the president of the Maine Central Railroad and requested that a railroad car be sent down to pick him up. You know you're a big shot - a large man - when you can summon a private train like the rest of us might hail a taxi, except, come to think of it, there were no taxis in those days to hail - especially in Poland Spring.
Anyway, the private car was dispatched and when it rolled to a stop at the Poland Spring station the poor engineer hopped onto the platform and - with a puzzled look on his face - began looking around. When Reed asked the engineer if there was anything wrong the poor man said, "I was sent down here to pick up a large party."
"Aren't I large enough for you?" Reed said, as he got in the car.
O.K., so material like that might not get you a slot these days on Leno or O'Brien, but back in the 1800s Reed was know for his wry, self-deprecating wit.
I don't want to get political here except to say that Reed was a fiercely partisan man. Speaking of the members of the opposition party in the House Reed said: "They never spoke without diminishing the sum of human knowledge." He thought the House worked best when one party governed and the other party watched.
In advance of his time, Reed opposed capital punishment and was a strong advocate for woman's suffrage. He was considered a potential candidate for president in 1896 and when asked by reporters if he'd be nominated he said: "The convention could do worse and probably will."
He resigned from the House in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and then practiced law in New York. He died at the age of 63 on Dec. 7, 1902, in Washington.
Despite being one of the most skilled lawmakers in the history of Congress Reed once said: "One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation."
Maybe it's time to start electing fat guys to political office again.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
Would you like to read past issues of Numb As A Pounded Thumb?
Click Here