His handpicked successor and close friend, William Howard Taft, was a reluctant politician whose sole ambition was to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Amiable and easygoing, Taft was the very opposite of the restless Roosevelt. After Taft failed to carry forward his predecessor's reformist policies, an embittered Roosevelt decided to challenge Taft for the party's nomination. Thwarted by a convention controlled by Taft, Roosevelt abandoned the GOP and ran in the general election as the candidate of a third party of his own creation, the Bull Moose Progressives.
Woodrow Wilson, the former president of Princeton University, astonished everyone by seizing the Democratic nomination from the party bosses who had made him New Jersey's governor. A noted political theorist, he was a relative newcomer to the practice of governing, torn between his fear of radical reform and his belief in limited government.
The fourth candidate, labor leader Eugene V. Debs, had run for president on the Socialist ticket twice before. A fervent warrior in the cause of economic justice for the laboring class, he was a force to be reckoned with in the great debate over how to mitigate the excesses of industrial capitalism that was at the heart of the 1912 election.
Chace recounts all the excitement and pathos of a singular moment in American history: the crucial primaries, the Republicans' bitter nominating convention that forever split the party, Wilson's stunning victory on the forty-sixth ballot at the Democratic convention, Roosevelt's spectacular coast-to-coast whistle-stop electioneering, Taft's stubborn refusal to fight back against his former mentor, Debs's electrifying campaign appearances, and Wilson's "accidental election" by less than a majority of the popular vote.
Had Roosevelt received the Republican nomination, he almost surely would have been elected president once again and the Republicans would likely have become a party of reform. Instead, the GOP passed into the hands of a conservative ascendancy that reached its fullness with Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and the party remains to this day riven by the struggle between reform and reaction, isolationism and internationalism.
The 1912 presidential contest was the first since the days of Jefferson and Hamilton in which the great question of America's exceptional destiny was debated. 1912 changed America.
The Presidency of William Howard Taft
(Paolo Enrico Coletta)
Theodore Roosevelt selected William Howard Taft to be his successor and gave him vital support during the presidential campaign of 1908. Taft was a conservative of upper-middle-class background with a long career on the bench, and he aspired to a judicial rather than a political career. Roosevelt nevertheless believed that Taft, a close personal friend, was the best man to continue his policies.
Taft agreed with many of Roosevelt's objectives, but not with his interpretation of presidential authority. Taft viewed the president's power as stemming from the constitution alone; he narrowly construed that power and denied that it involved the exercise of political leadership, or even initiative, with respect to legislation. As Taft saw it, his function as president was to establish a legal basis for the reforms undertaken by Roosevelt, not to enlarge the degree of federal intervention in the economic and social life of the nation. He was neither a renovator nor an innovator. Although Roosevelt expected him to expand executive power, Taft narrowed it. He sought the sound administration of government as a bulwark against the rising tide of social democracy.
Taft quickly earned the contempt of the progressives as one who had deserted their cause. During the first two years of his administration he battled with them over the Payne-Aldrich tariff and the conservation of natural resources. His compulsive upholding of the letter of the law resulted in the severing of his friendship with Roosevelt and the splitting of the Republican party.
Ironically, a greater number of progressive reforms were accomplished in Taft's four years in office than in Roosevelt's seven. Taft undertook the first tariff revision since 1897. He improved upon Roosevelt's conservation work, made advances in railroad regulation, and launched an antitrust crusade with which Roosevelt's paled in comparison. He successfully avoided American military involvement in various international disputes during his term. Among other achievements, his administration created the postal savings bank and parcel post systems, added two states to the Union and two amendments to the constitution, established a Department of Labor separate from Commerce, nearly completed the Panama Canal, regulated corporate campaign contributions, and strengthened the Pure Food and Drugs Act.
Despite the record, Taft is remembered as the champion of privilege, and he remains a symbol of "standpattism." Perhaps the reason for this is that Taft did not know how to be a politician in the best sense of the word. He exercised little leadership over Congress. He did not know how to make effective use of the press to mold public opinion, and his administration had few enthusiastic friends. He was torn by indecision at critical times, and he permitted interdepartmental squabbles between his subordinates to balloon to astronomical proportions. He was never able to balance the advocates of reform against those of reaction during his administration.
Taft was a consistent, hones, and at times even courageous conservative. Unfortunately, in troubled times in which the people demanded change, Taft often saw the existing order as good. He insisted in moving right politically, while much of the country moved left. When viewed in the era of transition from Rooseveltian to Wilsonian progressivism, Taft is best remembered as a constitutional conservator.
The Taft Court: Justices, Rulings, And Legacy
(Peter G. Renstrom)
An authoritative survey of the Taft Court, which served from 1921 to 1929, and the impact it had on the American legal system, social order, economics, and politics. The book features an A-Z set of paragraph-length entries on the significant people, laws, events and concepts.
William Howard Taft and the First Motoring Presidency, 1909-1913
(Michael L. Bromley)
William Howard Taft declared, "I am sure the automobile coming in as a toy of the wealthier class is going to prove the most useful of them all to all classes, rich and poor." Unlike his predecessors, who made public their disdain for the automobile, Taft saw the automobile industry as a great source of wealth for this country. The first president to acquire a car in office (Congress granted him three automobiles), Taft is responsible for there being a White House garage in 1909.
This is a look at the Taft presidency, his cars, his relationship to the automobile and the role of the automobile in the politics of his day. Appendices provide information on the White House garage and stable, Taft’s speech to the Automobile Club of America and a glossary of terms and names.
William Howard Taft, Confident Peacemaker:
(William Burton, David Henry Burton)
This book is a study of the internationalism of William Howard Taft. In the months after war broke out in 1914, Taft was second only to Woodrow Wilson in his awareness of the need to preserve the peace of the world through a new version of international organization. Built upon a synthetic interpretation of Taft's foreign policy ideas and initiatives, the book encompasses the whole of his public career as a statesman, from his years as civil governor of the Philippines through his tenure as chief justice of the Supreme Court. During those years, he moved from a basic belief in the theory and practice of balance of power to the application of dollar diplomacy. In response to the calamity of World War I, Taft came to recognize that world peace must be based upon a combination of idealism and realism, of high-minded principles placed and kept in effect by force, deliberately chosen and carefully applied.