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Nelson Aldrich: A Featured Biography

Nelson Aldrich by Paul Peter Kiehart

Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island rose from the position of grocery clerk to become one of the most powerful senators of his era. Elected to the Senate in 1881, he chaired the Committee on Finance from 1898 to 1911, becoming an influential expert on the economy. He sponsored the Aldrich-Vreeland Act which established the National Monetary Commission. His Aldrich Plan, providing for flexible cash reserves, was the forerunner of the Federal Reserve System. Although Aldrich rarely spoke on the Senate floor, preferring the more casual atmosphere of the committee room, by the turn of the 20th century he became the leading figure in the Republican caucus and was one of the Senate Four, a powerful group of Republican senators who dominated the institution for a decade. President Theodore Roosevelt referred to him as the “King Pin” of the Republican Party. Aldrich “did not bother with oratorical display,” wrote one historian, “but relied upon his charm, his commanding appearance, his superior mind, his ability to speak forthrightly, and his exceptional memory” to influence Senate action. Patriarch to a political family, Aldrich’s grandson, Nelson Rockefeller, became vice president and his great-grandson, Jay Rockefeller, became a U.S. senator.