Senatorial Scion

Frederick Hale of Maine

By Ray Hill
Few individuals come to the United States Senate and fewer still come with the pristine pedigree of Frederick Hale.  The son of a long-serving member of the United States Senate, Frederick Hale was the heir to a large estate as well.  Hale’s mother was the daughter of Zachariah Chandler, a founder of the national Republican Party and former United States senator from Michigan, as well as the secretary of the interior under President Ulysses S. Grant.  Hale’s mother, Mary, was an heir to the family fortune which was derived from dry goods.

During his 24 years in the United States Senate, Hale was a strong proponent of American naval power and a powerful advocate for the U.S. Navy.  Senator Hale frequently agreed with the foreign policy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but rarely ever agreed with FDR’s domestic policies.  Much of Hale’s personality could be summed up by his reply to a reporter who wondered why he didn’t make more speeches in the Senate:  “What’s the use of talking about what I am going to do?  The people are not interested in promises.  What they want is accomplishment.”  Senator Hale remained throughout his senatorial career, a doer rather than a talker.

A man with a well-tended mustache and bushy hair, Frederick Hale was once described by a home state newspaper as being “erect and austere.”  TIME magazine, noted for its frequently pithy descriptions of members of Congress, described the senator from Maine as “small, lean and wiry.”  The news magazine noted the senator’s “face is tanned a reddish brown” and “his stubbly brown hair he wears cut short and upright.”  The senator favored “expensively conservative” suits.  No orator, Senator Hale began his rare floor speeches by asking his colleagues to allow him to speak without interruption.  TIME thought Hale’s voice “lacks resonance and pitch.”  “When drawn into the rough & tumble debate,” Hale became “fussed and nervous.”

A man with a gruff exterior, which masked “an utterly delightful sense of humor” and a sharp wit that made the senator popular at Washington parties, Hale seemed to be plain-spoken, direct and all business when working.  One reporter who frequented the senator’s Washington office recalled Frederick Hale as having “a heart too soft to hard luck stories for his own good” who had done many things, almost always anonymously, for those in need.  The reporter kept the specifics to himself, writing, “He’d get me fired if I told.”

While in Washington, Hale lived in a big brownstone on 16th Street which had belonged to his father and mother.  The senator drove himself to work most days in a modest Ford sedan, but being a wealthy bachelor, owned a limousine and employed a chauffeur for special occasions.  One of the senator’s biggest annoyances was being referred to as rich and one of the Capitol’s most eligible bachelors.

TIME wrote on Hale: “The Senate’s most inveterate sportsman, he bowls and boxes daily at a gymnasium, plays golf in the 70s at Burning Tree Club, shoots ducks, goes to Alaska to hunt Kodiak bear, and bring their cubs back to the Washington zoo.  Socially he moves in the best Washington circles but prefers admirals to most of his Senate colleagues who privately consider him unnecessarily standoffish.”

When Senator Hale led the fight for more cruisers for the Navy, the Mainer was verbally assaulted by Missouri’s James A. Reed, a master of vitriol, who derided him personally as “a mighty light cruiser.”  Reed sneered that “a rowboat appeared to be in charge of the fleet.”  TIME thought Hale an “ultra conservative” in his economic views and while noting Hale was sincere in his belief “in the largest fighting fleet possible” was the “legislative spokesman of the Navy’s General Board.”

The bear cubs referred to by TIME magazine involved the accidental shooting of the mother bear by a member of Hale’s hunting party in Alaska.  The senator, looking sorrowfully at the three cubs announced they should be taken back to the Washington Zoo.  His fellow hunters told him they would leave the responsibility for the care and feeding of the bear cubs to Hale.  The senator wrapped the three small cubs in his sweater and tied the sleeves together and carried them back.  The return trip to Washington involved traveling by canoe, boat and train.  The senator discovered feeding three voracious cubs was no easy feat, especially in the cold freight cars of the train.  One cub died on the trip, but he named the remaining two, a male and female.  The male cub was christened “Portland” while the female was named “Fargo.”  The grown bears still lived at the Washington Zoo, a gold placard bearing the donor’s name, when the senator returned home to Maine.  The senator had sent the zoo a check, asking staff to purchase a ball for the small bears to play with while they were still young.

When Senator Frederick Hale attended the dinner given by President Roosevelt for the speaker of the house, he was twitted by FDR about Maine and Vermont being the only states to vote for his opponent in the 1936 election.  Roosevelt leaned forward, looked at Hale and said solemnly that the chief of protocol had experienced difficulty in the seating arrangements because of the presence of “the Ambassador from Maine.”

When Frederick Hale announced his intention not to seek reelection to the United States Senate in 1940, it meant after he returned to Maine, it would be the first time in 54 years that a Hale had not represented the Pine Tree State in the Senate.  Hale’s father, Eugene, had served for 30 years.   In full, the end of Hale’s congressional career ended 73 years of continuous service by the Hale family to the people of Maine.  At the time of his announcement, Frederick Hale was the senior Republican in the U.S. Senate.  As had always been his style, Senator Hale made his announcement quietly while speaking before the Young Republican Clubs in Portland in 1938.  Hale said he did so to give those hoping to represent Maine in the Senate ample time to prepare and campaign for the office.  Frederick Hale would be 66 years old before his term in the United States Senate expired.  The massive mansion where Frederick Hale lived in Washington had been a present to Mary Chandler Hale from her father for her wedding.

Hale sold the family mansion in Washington and the furniture was auctioned off as he returned to his stately home in Portland.  It surely contained many memories for the former senator who had grown up in the house on 16th Street.  After his father’s death in 1918, Frederick Hale and his mother continued to live in the house.  Mrs. Hale served as her son’s hostess since he was not married.  Mary Chandler Hale was a remarkable woman who had attended Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration and watched with President Andrew Johnson as troops marched through Washington, D.C., at the end of the American Civil War.

Apparently, Hale was the kind of employer who enjoyed the loyalty of his employees; his personal secretary, Miss Agnes Locke, had come from Portland with the senator to Washington just after his election in 1917.  The senator’s secretary or chief of staff, Rodney Marshall, was a former newspaperman who joined Hale’s staff in 1918.  Both Miss Locke and Marshall stayed with Hale until the senator left the Senate in 1941.  Hale had a reputation for kindness and fair treatment amongst his staff and had earned their affection and respect.  The senator and his office staff had been effective in working for the people of Maine.

Throughout his time in the United States Senate, Frederick Hale’s critics accused him of being so interested in the advancement of the U. S. Navy almost to the exclusion of everything else involving government.  Say what they might, Hale cast his vote on the issues coming before the Senate and was less an internationalist than one who looked first toward what he felt was best for the United States of America.  His critics overlooked the fact Senator Hale was always careful to look after the people who sent him to Washington.  During the First World War the senator positively “besieged” the State Department and General John J. Pershing, seeking information about American servicemen from Maine for their anxious parents and loved ones.

One reason for Hale’s retirement from the Senate may very well have been the senator’s unhappiness with the New Deal.  President Roosevelt’s legendary charm was lost on the senior senator from Maine.  At best, Hale had “deep misgivings” about the New Deal’s social legislation.  At his core, Frederick Hale was something of a solitary man and was not easy to get to know.  One reporter who had covered the senator for most of his twenty-four years in the Senate wrote he didn’t know of any person who knew all the reasons for Hale’s decision not to seek reelection in 1940.  The most anyone could get out of Senator Hale was a brisk reply, “Twenty-four years is enough.”  As is usually the case with such decisions, it was likely a combination of things that caused Frederick Hale to retire.  The reporter speculated Hale, who had served as chairman of the Senate Naval Affairs as well as the powerful Appropriations committees, despaired the Republicans returning to majority status inside the Senate.  Another factor, the reporter surmised, was the notion Senator Hale would encounter serious opposition in both the primary and general elections.  Hale had only narrowly won in 1934 and apparently had little appetite for another campaign.  That prospect must have been especially unappealing for one who loathed speech-making.  The sessions were lasting longer and longer, which may have also discouraged Hale from seeking a fifth term.  The Hale family tradition of service to Maine continued when cousin Robert won election to Congress in 1940.

Following his retirement from the Senate, Frederick Hale enjoyed himself, dividing his time between his home in Portland, his mother’s home in Ellsworth, and Florida.  Hale continued golfing well into his seventies and played winter and summer.  Hale was known for playing golf almost daily at Portland’s country club during the summer months.  The former senator entertained, both in Portland and his family’s summer home in Ellsworth, “The Pines,” an imposing gothic structure.  As he aged, the former senator preferred the mild and pleasant Maine summers and the warm winter months in Florida.  Hale continued golfing until he was diagnosed with cancer.

Hale experienced the loss of his brother Chandler, who had been a diplomat and State Department official, in 1951.  The two brothers had been born a little over a year apart and older brother Chandler’s passing left Frederick as the last remaining member of his immediate family.

By the time Frederick Hale died at age 88, he had been retired from the United States Senate for more than 20 years and well out of the spotlight for decades.  The former senator’s funeral was both small and simple, largely attended “by elderly friends.”  Hale, who never married, left $525,000 to the Portland Medical Center, as well as $25,000 bequests to the University of Maine and Bowdoin College.  The former senator left $10,000 to Harvard University but was far more generous to his longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Lucy Bowles, who received $50,000 from her late employer.  Bowles’ daughter, also named Lucy, who worked for Hale, received $20,000.  The remainder of the former senator’s considerable estate was divided between his cousin Robert, a former congressman from Maine, and Katherine Hale Clifford, and his niece, Mary H. Chase.

The Bangor Daily News published an editorial noting Hale’s passing and remarked that the “senator died as he lived, without fanfare.”  Throughout his career, the editorial stated, Hale had avoided the public spotlight, preferring “that his record do the talking.”  The newspaper praised Hale for his “reputation for intellectual honesty and disdain for senatorial log-rolling” which “won him great prestige in Washington.”

Frederick Hale’s life could have been one of leisure, but instead, he chose service.

© 2024 Ray Hill