September 25, 2014


Oh, Taft. When a chapter of your biography is titled "So Little Time Remained," it's a bad sign. The second paragraph of this chapter starts with the words: "Another major problem for which there was not enough time..."

["Another major problem for which there was not enough time" could be the title of this blog come to think of it, were At Times Dull not so snappy.]

The chapter that followed this one was titled "A Final Futile Dream." Henry F. Pringle is not in raptures over Big Bill, is what I'm getting at. I can't bring myself to outline the major political issues of his administration. There was a to-do with Japan and China regarding Manchuria. There was unrest in Mexico that Taft didn't want to get involved with. There were oh so many problems with the tariff. There was, I'm not kidding, an enormous debate over the prices of second class mail.

Taft become more stubborn and isolated as his term went on and garnered more and more criticism. He was also obviously hurt by the fact that Roosevelt openly opposed many of his policies, even though he'd become president essentially at Roosevelt's urging. Oh except when things were getting crazy in Mexico Roosevelt wrote him a letter that was like "Hey I know we're not friends anymore and in fact I'm tanking your political career but on the off chance we go to war with Mexico I'd love to be in it, like leading 3 cavalry regiments would be pretty cool." UGH TR WE KNOW YOU LOVE WAR AND HORSES, GO HOME PLEASE.

A lot of Taft's dreams came true after his presidency so I've got that to look forward to. In the meantime, there's a cute story about Taft and Alice Roosevelt. You may remember that they traveled together on a diplomatic mission to Asia, and had become close friends. He sent her a silver cigarette case for Christmas, because unlike most men in Washington he was down with her smoking, and she wrote back and said that he was the best.

September 22, 2014

Taft: The Early Years That I Don't Know Much About

In the feast-or-famine way of presidential biographies, it was slim pickings for Taft. There's one book just about his 4 years as president, one about his emotional life (??), a few that are out of print, and a 1,000-page 2-volume biography that is regarded as mediocre. Its author was admittedly a big fan of TR and decided to research Taft because of their relationship, but ultimately didn't like him. And yet his is my best option, so I decided to read just the second volume of William Howard Taft by Henry Pringle.

It starts in 1910 when the mid-term Taft is in a tariff battle. As is well-documented on this page, I do not understand the tariff and every time it comes up I zone out, so this was not an auspicious beginning.

Here is what I know about Taft's life pre-1910 due to his apperances in the Roosevelt biography and a quick reading of his wikipedia page.

- He went to Yale, where he got the nickname "Big Bill," was a wrestler, and graduated 2nd in his class.
- He then returned to Ohio to start his law career in order to pursue his dream job of supreme court justice. (Ohio is to the turn of the 20th century what Virginia was to the turn of the 19th century as far as presidential politics go. Including Taft, 4 of the last 8 presidents — Hayes, Garfield, McKinley, Taft — were Buckeyes.)
- Benjamin Harrison made him Solicitor General, and then McKinley put him in charge of the newly-acquired Philippines.
- When Roosevelt took over, Big Bill was Governor-General of The Philippines. Roosevelt repeatedly offered him jobs in the federal government, including a supreme court seat a few times, but he refused because he wanted to finish the job he'd started there. I'm actually pretty sad that I don't get to read more about his time as Governor-General — apparently he was really good at it and had a great relationship with the Filipinos, who found him lovable if baffling walking around in the tropical heat in a 3-piece suit.
- Roosevelt eventually convinced him to come home and be Secretary of War, and was public about the fact that he thought Taft should succeed him as president.
- Roosevelt loved Taft. Taft loved Roosevelt. Know who didn't love Roosevelt? Helen Taft. Except Helen wanted to be first lady, and Roosevelt was going to make that happen. Taft would have preferred to wait for a supreme court seat. Helen and Roosevelt had other opinions.

September 20, 2014

presidential fact #26

William H. Taft's father, Alphonso Taft, was a co-founder of Skull & Bones.