The only president to later serve as chief justice of the United States, William Howard Taft remarked in the 1920s that "I don't remember that I ever was President." Historians have agreed, and Taft is usually portrayed, when written about at all, as nothing more than a failed chief executive. In this provocative new study, the first treatment of the Taft presidency in four decades, Lewis L. Gould presents a compelling assessment of Taft's accomplishments and setbacks in office. Rich in human interest and fresh analysis of the events of Taft's four years in Washington, Gould's book shows why Taft's presidency is very much worth remembering on its own terms.
Gould argues that Taft wanted to be president and had an ambitious agenda when he took power in March 1909. Approaching his duties more as a judge than as a charismatic executive in the mold of Theodore Roosevelt, Taft soon found himself out of step with public opinion. Gould shows how the Payne-Aldrich Tariff and the Ballinger-Pinchot controversy squandered Taft's political capital and prepared the ground for Democratic victories in the elections of 1910 and 1912. His seamless narrative provides innovative treatments of these crucial episodes to make Taft's presidency more understandable than in any previous account. On Canadian Reciprocity, Dollar Diplomacy, and international arbitration, Gould's well-researched work goes beyond earlier stale clichs about Taft's administration to link his tenure to the evolution of the modern presidency. Taft emerges as a hard-working but flawed executive who lacked the excitement of Theodore Roosevelt or the inspiration of Woodrow Wilson.
The break with Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 doomed the Taft presidency, and Gould supplies an evenhanded analysis of the erosion of their once warm friendship. At bottom, the two men clashed about the nature of presidential power, and Gould traces with insight how this personal and ideological rupture influenced the future of the Republican party and the course of American politics. In Gould's skilled hands, this neglected presidency again comes alive. Leaving the White House in 1913, Taft wrote that "the people of the United States did not owe me another election." What his presidency deserved is the lively and wise appraisal of his record in office contained in this superb book.
About the Author
Lewis L. Gould's many books include The Modern American Presidency, The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, The Presidency of William McKinley, and most recently Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics. He lives in Austin, Texas.
Table of Contents
1. "The Man of the Hour" in 1908
2. Being His Own King
3. The President and His Country
4. A Substantial Revision Downward: The Payne-Aldrich Tariff
5. The Ballinger-Pinchot Controversy
6. Taft, Knox, and Dollar Diplomacy
7. Taft and Congress, 1910
8. Taft, Roosevelt, and the 1910 Election
9. Taft as Administrator
10. Reciprocity, Revolution, and Arbitration
11. Toward a Break with Roosevelt
12. "Roosevelt Was My Closest Friend"
13. The 1912 Campaign
14. Leaving the White House
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In reading this book about Preisent Taft,I'm rteminded that,he was the Person to be both President & Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.No has done it since.The author goes into great detail explaining many misunderstood facts about him as presdident. When asked many years later,about being President,he stated"I almost had forgotten that I was ever President"If you are a "student"of the american presidents.Then is is a good book to start with.He is most proud of the things he did ,while on the Supreme Court.Appointed as Chief Justice by President Warren G Harding in 1921,he felt,personally,that this was what he had always to do. Being President,wasn't his idea,it was his wife Nellie,who "pushed" him to run as the hand picked secessor to popular President Teddy Roosevelt.Long story short,it didn't work.However,he did overcome many obstacles,that today,history has rewritten,it's final view of the many great things that he did. Read the book,see for yourself.
There are not a lot of biographies written about Taft. This book is a part of the American Presidency Series. It focuses only on Taft's presidency, providing a relatively comprehensive account of those four 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.