My Dearest Nellie: The Letters of William Howard Taft to Helen Herron Taft, 1909-1912

Overview

Few presidential couples enjoyed a closer relationship in the White House than Will and Nellie Taft. Throughout William Howard Taft's rise in American politics, she had been his most intimate confidant. When circumstances separated them, as when Helen Herron Taft became incapacitated by a stroke and was unable to accompany the president on his storied travels—or was herself on recuperative trips—she pressed him for letters, and he obliged with gossipy correspondence that provides a fascinating account of his ...

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Overview

Few presidential couples enjoyed a closer relationship in the White House than Will and Nellie Taft. Throughout William Howard Taft's rise in American politics, she had been his most intimate confidant. When circumstances separated them, as when Helen Herron Taft became incapacitated by a stroke and was unable to accompany the president on his storied travels—or was herself on recuperative trips—she pressed him for letters, and he obliged with gossipy correspondence that provides a fascinating account of his presidency at decisive moments in his single term.

These 113 letters, all but a few never before published, represent a rare glimpse into the mind of a chief executive speaking candidly about individuals and issues. In them, Taft commented on political issues he encountered and decisions he made—as well as his growing disillusion with Theodore Roosevelt, his unhappiness with Congress, and his struggles with his weight and golf score. Breathing new life into a bygone era in all of its complexity and humanity, they also open a new window on Washington early in the twentieth century—providing Taft's reactions not only to social figures of the Progressive Era but also to the impact of innovations like the automobile and rudimentary air conditioning.

Sometimes indiscreet and frustrated with his political prospects, Taft comes through as a man who worked hard at a job for which he was not well suited. Indeed, Taft has been written off as a failed chief executive who was pushed into office by his wife; yet, as he insisted to Nellie, he was a creditable chief executive confronted with a changing political environment. Taft's letters may not warrant calling him a great president, but they reveal a more thoughtful occupant of the White House than scholars have acknowledged.

Other than those that Harry Truman wrote to Bess, there is no comparable archive of modern presidential letters to a spouse that equals the letters to "Dearest Nellie" that Will Taft sent. Edited and introduced by a leading historian of the Progressive Era, Taft's letters not only reveal the inner workings of a presidency at decisive moments but also humanize a chief executive to whom history has been less than kind.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Letters from former American Presidents to their wives have long been a favorite with historians eager for a glimpse into the thoughts of those in power. This collection of 113 previously unpublished letters from Taft to his wife, Nellie, exposes the uncertainty and struggles experienced by the 27th President. Edited by Gould (history, emeritus, Univ. of Texas, Austin; The William Howard Taft Presidency), the book shows Taft to be a compelling, avuncular personality who happened to be ill suited for the job at hand. Taft conveys his increasing frustration with former friend and new competitor for the 1912 election, Theodore Roosevelt; his thoughts on tariff and election reform; and rationales behind his frequent vetoes of congressional bills. VERDICT The letters illuminate the changing shape of the American presidency, but one wishes Taft had offered more substance, and the work wants a tighter culling of repetitive missives. Gould's extensive research into events and individuals and his editorial writings give useful historical context. For historians of the presidency and the progressive era.—Laura Ruttum Senturia, Denver
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700618002
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 7/12/2011
  • Pages: 305
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Lewis L. Gould's many books include The William Howard Taft Presidency, The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, The Presidency of William McKinley, The Modern American Presidency, and Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics. He lives in Austin, Texas.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Editor's Preface ix

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 The Tariff Battle, July-August 1909 15

Chapter 2 The First Western Trip, October-November 1909 69

Chapter 3 Tensions with Roosevelt, 1910 117

Chapter 4 The Difficult Summer, 1911 137

Chapter 5 The President and the 1912 Campaign, July 1912 189

Chapter 6 The Last Phase, August-November 1912 253

Index 297

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