Governor and U.S. Senator Styles Bridges, N.H. State House portrait, second floor senate side
Styles Bridges, Yankee Senator
By James J. Kiepper, with a foreword by Robert D. Novak
Review by Dean Dexter
This biography of the late U.S. Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire, with a foreword by Robert Novak, the syndicated columnist and political commentator, profiles the life of one of those long forgotten, but once eminently powerful Washington figures whose career offers a valuable snapshot into the politics of another era. Bridges, who generally kept a low national profile during his quarter century in the senate, but who rose to become one of that body's most skillful wheeler-dealers, entered the senate as one of only two Republicans in the Democratic/New Deal landslide of 1936. Prior to that he served one term as New Hampshire governor (the youngest governor in the nation at the time).
Finding early on that money is the path to power in Washington, Bridges won a seat on the powerful Appropriations committee in his first term, rising to chairman when the Republicans won the senate in 1952. From his perch on Appropriations (and with a similar position on Armed Services), Bridges became one of a handful of go-to guys - including the more flamboyant Lyndon Johnson - who virtually ran the senate during World War II and the Cold War.
The book opens with a spooky scene of Bridges being called to the White House one night to be secretly briefed by President Franklin Roosevelt on the Manhattan Project. It turns out Bridges was one of but four members of congress privy to the nation's top secret development of the atomic bomb (Vice President Truman wasn't even informed), and helped hide its funding from fellow lawmakers in other appropriations throughout the war).
As president pro tempore of the senate (third in line for the presidency) and senate minority leader, Bridges was a vigorous partisan who believed in playing hardball politics (the author suggests he helped precipitate a colleague's suicide), and was also not above trafficking in (and often legaly pocketing) large amounts of political money - common practice prior to Watergate era reforms.
Although a tough anti-communist and conservative on fiscal issues, Bridges' politics nonetheless were more practical than ideological (his most controversial vote was against the censure of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy). In his fifth term at the time of his death (November 26, 1961), Bridges - as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee - was preparing an optimistic and progressive strategy for his party's future (which included cultivating the Rockefeller moderates) to combat the newly inaugurated and charismatic young Democrat in the White House, John F. Kennedy.
A legend in New Hampshire politics (he attempted a run for president in 1940), Bridges controlled local party affairs in nearly every precinct for decades through a powerful network of loyalists and local officials. Styles Bridges/Yankee Senator, by retired University at Albany (N.Y.) Professor James J. Kiepper (270 pages, illustrated, indexed with bibliography) is an excellent treatment of a once important national figure.
This book joins similar biographies of such Bridges contemporaries as the late Senators Margaret Chase Smith (R-Maine) and George Aiken (R-Vermont) - whose names are also fading from the public mind, but who nonetheless deserve to have their stories easily available for students of history and government, and popular readership alike.
Dean Dexter is a former Belknap County Commissioner and contributing editor of New Hampshire Magazine. A more extensive review of this book appeared in the August, 2001 issue of that publication.
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The key to the success of Styles Bridges is he never forgot his priorities at the local level. He knew it was the voters back home who kept him in office. Here he is shown at a reception in Gilford, New Hampshire, circa 1960. Pictured from left are his wife, Doloris, Walter Gardner, host of the event, the Senator, Judge Frank Ayer of Alton, and Belknap County Commissioner Joseph F. Smith of Meredith Center and Laconia.
At a 1960 campaign stop at the Belmont (N. H.) Town Hall: From left: Dean Dexter, Laconia Atty. Richard P. Brouillard, Cong. Chester E. Merrow, Sen. Styles Bridges, N. H. Governor Wesley Powell, who once served as Bridges chief of staff in Washington.
Nationally syndicated columnist Robert Novak and Dean Dexter, former Belknap County Commissioner and contributing editor of N. H. Magazine, at at reception at Bridges House, the official residence of New Hampshire governors, honoring the publication of Styles Bridges, Yankee Senator, April 27, 2001. Bridges House, once the residence of the senator and his wife, was willed to the state in 1969. Novak wrote the foreword for the book and spoke at the reception. Roland Young, Jr. photo
From youngest governor in the nation to U. S. Senator before the age of 40.
U. S. Sen. Styles Bridges, R-N. H., on the podium with former President Herbert Hoover at the 1960 Republican National Convention, which nominated Richard Nixon as the GOP candidate. Bridges introduced Hoover to the convention.
Senior Republican U.S. Senator Styles Bridges, R-NH, and First Lady Mamie Dowd Eisenhower, escort the incoming first lady to her car on the way to her husband's inauguration, following the traditional coffee reception for the President-Elect at the White House, given by the President and Mrs. Eisenhower for the Kennedys. Time/Life Archive. January 20, 1961.
General Douglas McArthur, Sen. Styles Bridges, and New Hampshire Governor Hugh Gregg, State Armory, Manchester, N.H., 1954
U.S. Senator Styles Bridges, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, House Speaker Joe Martin, Vice President Richard Nixon.
U.S. Senator Style Bridges, chairman of the inaugural committee, right, in the limousine bearing out-going President Harry S Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, at the White House portico, ready to head toward Pennsylvania Avenue and the U.S. Capitol, for the swearing-in.
A room in the U. S. Capitol was dedicated in memory of Sen. Styles Bridges on June 24, 1981, hosted by Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, Senate President Pro Tempore Strom Thurmond, N. H. Senior Senator Gordon Humphrey, and colleague Senator Warren Rudman.
Senator Styles Bridges in his Washington apartment, in bedroom slippers, telephoning and conferring with an unknown. July 1, 1953 (Life Magazine collection).
Bridges House, East Concord, donated to the state by the Bridges family following the death of Senator Bridges, for use as the official Residence of New Hampshire Governors. Governor Walter Peterson (R-Peterborough, 1969 to 1973) was the first chief executive to use the residence.-- Dean Dexter photo, December 2006
Bridges House Renovation Project
Lyzz Dexter keeping an eye on the silver service at Bridges' House, the Governor's residence, April 2001
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