27 - William Howard Taft
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The William Howard Taft Presidency
Taft is the only President to also serve as Chief Justice in the Supreme Court.
Taft was the first president to throw the first baseball of a season.
He was the first president to own a car. He had the stables converted into a four-car garage.
William H. Taft is one of two presidents who is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.
Taft was the last president to have facial hair.
He called the White House "the loneliest place in the world."
Taft was our heaviest president, weighing 332 pounds. He once got stuck in the White House bath tub, so a new one was installed, big enough to hold four grown men!
William Howard Taft was a seventh cousin twice removed of Richard Nixon and a distant relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Taft was tone deaf. Taft needed to be nudged when anyone was playing the national anthem because he was tone deaf.
Taft never wanted to be president. He wanted to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but his wife wanted to be the first lady. She talked him into running for office. He finally got his wish in 1920 when he was appointed Chief Justice.
Helen Taft is responsible for Washington's famed cherry trees.
Taft is known more for his work as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court than for the deeds of his presidency.
His son, Robert, was a respected leader of the Republican party for many years.
Although Taft was hand selected by Theodore Roosevelt as his successor, Taft struggled to fill the shoes of the charismatic Roosevelt. Taft faced a number of controversies during his first two years in office, and never seemed to find his political footing. When the Democrats gained Congressional seats in the 1910 elections, Taft had even more trouble achieving his goals. As it became obvious that Taft's stance on major issues and on the powers of the President differed substantially from Roosevelt's, Taft and Roosevelt became openly antagonistic towards one another. When Roosevelt ran as a third party candidate in the 1912 election, Taft finished a distant third and became a one-term president.
Because Taft was President exactly 100 years ago, it was interesting to compare the Presidency from then to now. For example, the State of the Union was not a televised speech (or even a radio-broadcast speech), but a letter to Congress. Taft's use of government funds to travel around the country was controversial, and his trip to Panama was even more unusual.
While this book provided a good description of Taft's presidency, informed by documents that had not been used by previous biographers, it was a little dry. While the major events were covered, there was less analysis of Taft's presidency as a whole. Because Roosevelt played such a big part in Taft's presidency, many of these same events were covered in the Roosevelt biography that I read last month. Even so, I was glad to get a better understanding of this President.
Next month - Wilson!
The book is sub-titled: “The President Who Became Chief Justice”.
I don’t think is a particularly good book but it’s about a really good man. This country was very well served by William Howard Taft and not just as its President. He achieved some really amazing things as Governor General of the Philippines, he honchoed some of the work done in building the Panama Canal and he passed down some well thought out Supreme Court decisions – among a lot of other public services.
The book is written in easily readable, conversational style. That doesn’t make it a bad book; it makes it a surface treatment book. It would fit well into “The American Presidents Series” initiated by Arthur Schlesinger. Mr. Severn wrote some 30 books, many of them biographies of political and judicial figures, and a lot of books for children which might explain the simplicity of the style used in this one. I do recommend it, though, as it ties together all the threads of information attached to Mr. Taft’s name that turn up in Presidential biographies from McKinley through Hoover and it confirms that he was a very interesting man; as were his father and his son.
This book was the only Taft bio I could find in our local library system. A side note on this particular copy. A book plate indicates that the book arrived in the library in 1974. It looked brand new. The old check out card says it was checked out once in 1985. With the new electronic check out system it could have been checked more since than but I might have been the first person to read the book in 28 years. Is that an indication of Taft's popularity?
by Judith Icke Anderson
I was a bit disappointed with this biography. I've been reading biographies of all the presidents as an indirect but interesting way to learn about U.S. history. That's something that Professor Anderson doesn't cover overmuch. Instead she adds some psychology, attempting to shed some light on why a well liked and competent man could let himself be pressured into accepting the presidency and then do such a lousy job of it.
Taft's great ambition was to be a justice of the Supreme Court. He eventually made it, but only after years of being swept into politics, serving as Governor of the Philippines, Secretary of War and, of course, President of the United States. Why? Professor Anderson opines that it was his desire to please first his wife, Nellie, and later, Theodore Roosevelt, that led him to set aside his own ambitions and seek political office. Once in the White House, however, he started to follow his own path and ended up irritating all sorts of people.
The book's coverage of the years outside of Taft's presidential administration are somewhat sparse. I never got a good feeling of the times like I did with other biographies. The psychological angle was different, though I tended to be skeptical of psychological theories from 1981. Another interesting angle was the relative amount of space she devoted to Nellie Taft. I haven't seen so much text devoted to the first lady since I read a The Madisons: A Biography, over a decade ago. But when it comes to William Howard Taft, the coverage was definitely warranted. In the end, An Intimate History wasn't a horrible read, even though it didn't fit my own agenda.
I got about a third of the way through William Howard Taft The President Who Became Chief Justice by Bill Severn. It was horrendous. I think it meant more as a book for kids. I gave up on it and am now reading, or attempt to read, William Howard Taft: Confident Peacemaker by David Burton. I have very low hopes for this book after receiving it from inter-library loan. It's basically a series of essays from the point of view of Taft as diplomat and international law dude.
Basically, someone needs to write a better bio of this man.