The William Howard Taft Presidency
Lewis L. Gould
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 first volume that scholars who want to learn more about Taft will consult for years to come.”
—Journal of American History
“The book provides a fascinating object lesson in how not to function successfully as president in spite of good intentions and a profound belief in following the U.S Constitution and existing law.”
—Indiana Magazine of HistorySee all reviews...
“Gould explains better than anyone else the political missteps of President Taft. . . . An important addition to the study of the Progressive Era, especially Progressive Era politics.”
—Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
“A concise yet authoritative account of William Howard Taft’s presidency.”
—Annals of Iowa
“Provides a lucid account of Taft’s stewardship that does not dislocate the standard wisdom. While sympathetic to Taft, Gould makes no exaggerated claims for his political judgment or leadership skills, citing a ‘pervasive sense of lost opportunity,’ and concluding that Taft’s was at best a ‘creditable’ presidency. That judgment seems apt. ”
“This is the best informed and most judicious study yet published about the Taft presidency. Gould has poured into this short book the product of his impressive research and extensive reflection about the politics of the progressive period, Taft’s uncomfortable role therein, and not the least Taft’s controversial relationship with Theodore Roosevelt.”
—John Morton Blum, author of The Republican Roosevelt and The Progressive Presidents
“Gould effectively and evenhandedly examines the sweet as well as the sour of this presidency, balancing Taft’s intelligence, integrity, and efficiency on one side with a surprising impulsiveness and lack of intimate, reliable political advice on the other.”
—John Milton Cooper, author of Pivotal Decades: The United States 1900–1920
“Impressively researched, judiciously argued, and gracefully written, this book is full of humor as well as wisdom. Most important, it offers a thorough, balanced account of the Taft presidency that is sure to become the standard work on the subject and a valuable resource for the next generation of scholars.”
—Bruce J. Schulman, author of Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s
“Quite simply, the best book ever written about the Taft presidency. Gould’s mastery of the sources, command of early twentieth-century politics, and sage judgments make this book an indispensable guide to our too often forgotten 27th president.”
—Richard J. Ellis, author of Founding the American Presidency and Presidential Travel: The Journey from George Washington to George W. BushSee fewer reviews...
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.