THOMAS BRACKETT REED was the rock-ribbed Maine Republican who led the U.S. House of Representatives into the modern era of big government. From the Speaker’s chair early in 1890, he unilaterally stripped the legislative minority of the power to obstruct the law-making agenda of the majority. Enraged Democrats branded him a “czar,” which epithet Reed seemed not to mind at all.
Modernity was Reed’s cause from his first Congress in 1877 to the day he resigned in protest over America’s war of choice with Spain. As society was moving forward, he contended, so must the government...