- Colonel House: A Biography of Woodrow Wilson’s Silent Partner by Charles E. Neu
Colonel Edward M. House desired greatness and power far beyond [End Page 110] the confines of his home state of Texas. He dreamed about it. He fantasized about it. And he found the opportunity to realize his ambitions in an extraordinary partnership as a confidante and political operative with President Woodrow Wilson.
In a new biography, Colonel House: A Biography of Woodrow Wilson’s Silent Partner, Charles E. Neu, Professor Emeritus of History at Brown University, has revealed the forces that made House crave fame and seek recognition as the fixer of domestic and foreign problems. House was born in Galveston, Texas, to wealthy local entrepreneur T. W. House and Mary Elizabeth Shearn on July 26, 1858. He lived a life of privilege. But when his father died in 1880, followed by the eventual division of the estate, House married Loulie Hunter, started a family, and moved to Austin. The capital city became House’s political playground, where he built a network of supporters, or “Our Crowd,” and become a powerful political operative whose nod could make or break a candidate’s aspirations. House preferred to be a kingmaker, a role that he deemed to be far more important and powerful than to be a mere king.
Tiring of Texas politics by 1906, House sought to find the right moment to elevate himself on the national and international stage where he could make his mark in history. He found that opportunity in the candidacy and election of Woodrow Wilson to the presidency. From 1912 to 1919 House was Wilson’s closest advisor and companion. Winning the trust of the president, he recommended policy and created the paths to successful legislative achievements along Progressive lines. Then as events in Europe unfolded after 1913, he made himself indispensable to the president by conferring and negotiating with foreign leaders throughout World War I and the resulting treaties. House reveled in his new found international notoriety, during which he associated with high society in London, Paris, and other cities in Europe and conferred with notables such as Alfred Balfour, David Lloyd George, Sir Edward Grey, and Georges Clemenceau. He felt invincible and indispensable. Then overconfident, he overstepped his authority and assumed that his familiarity with Wilson allowed him to speak without consulting the president. Because of this action, in 1919 House found himself to be an outcast from the Wilson White House. Until his death in 1938, he tried to work within Washington, D.C., political circles but never regained the status that he had held during the Wilson years.
In this biography, Neu has delved not only into the ambitions and successes of House but also into his life as a husband, father, and friend. House was devoted to his family and provided handsomely for them. House, Loulie, their children and grandchildren, and his secretary Fanny traveled extensively along the East Coast and crossed the Atlantic to foreign ports many times. House did not tolerate heat and humidity well and was always frail, thus necessitating long absences from Washington, D.C., even at critical moments in the Wilson administration. [End Page 111]
Neu has written a detailed, well-researched, definitive biography of House. Although other works have been written about House and Wilson, this book combines their lives and times into one volume (with the focus on House and his place in history) and affirms the important role of Texas politicians and leaders in the history of the United States.