James Eli Watson is a fascinating figure in American politics. As a U.S. Representative and later Senator from (and boss of) Indiana, his career and involvement in politics spanned the era from the Gilded Age to the New Deal. Credited with coining the phrase If you can’t lick ’em, jine (join) ’em, he was throughout his political life one of the best-liked personalities in Washington.
It was his good fortune early in his career to become the close associate of the powerful Speaker of the House and stalwart conservative, Joseph G. (“Uncle Joe”) Cannon, under whom he served as Republican whip. His service in the U.S. Senate lasted from 1916 through 1933, the last four years as majority leader, but was swept out of office by the Democratic landslide of 1932.
Watson was well acquainted with the powerful figures of the era, serving in Congress under 8 presidents (Cleveland, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover). He also knew Harrison and saw Grant, Hayes, Garfield, and Arthur.
His memoirs, As I Knew Them, published in 1936, are full of anecdotes of the great and near-great of his day. Starting with the next post, I’ll “serialize” in this blog the chapter he devoted to Calvin Coolidge. Here’s a teaser: