23 January 18
President William Howard Taft
Throughout the presidency of William Howard Taft, there were successes and failures involving policy and domestic affairs. Taft, handled each of his challenges by staying true to what he believed in: the law. He never strayed away from this, even in his failure. That makes him an honorable president.
William Howard Taft was born in 1857 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was destined to become a lawyer, considering both his father and grandfather were. He gained his undergraduate degree at Yale and his law degree at Cincinnati law school. Right off the bat he gets his first appointed position: assistant prosecutor of Hamilton County, Ohio. Soon after, he begins climbing the ladder of law and government. In 1887, Taft became a state judge, then in 1890, the solicitor general of the United States. Two years later, in 1892, William Howard Taft earned the position of a judge on the federal bench. Soon after, he became the dean of Cincinnati Law School. After becoming the head of the Governing Commission of the Philippines in 1901, Taft accepted the position of secretary of war for President Theodore Roosevelt, and held this position from 1904 to 1908. Finally, Taft won the election of 1908 and was inaugurated in 1909, beginning his first term as President of the United States.
One of President Taft’s major political beliefs was that he “…firmly believed that the president may legitimately act only if the law or the Constitution specifically grants such authority in clear terms” (Romero 344). This contradicts the belief of his predecessor Theodore Roosevelt. President Roosevelt “…focused on increasing the scope and strength of presidential authority” (Romero 344). This belief of President Taft’s meant that he didn’t believe in stretching of Presidential powers. He so firmly believed this that he once said that Roosevelt “ought more often to have admitted the legal way of reaching the same ends.”
President Taft frequently worked with congress throughout his presidency. When he first entered office, in 1909, Taft worked with congress on reforming tariffs. This included “a trade agreement with Canada… of a low tariff, but the Canadians rejected it” (Romero 345). In his first year, Taft worked with Congress on lowering tariffs, but the farthest they got was the Congress passed the “Payne-Aldrich Bill (1909), which lowered tariffs but only on the items people didn’t want anyway” (E-brary). This was a problem, of course, because the lowered tariffs were only on items people didn’t buy. President Taft struggled with lowering tariff rates. He understood that this would benefit a fairly young U.S. economy, but early in his presidency got nowhere. President Taft and Congress did find ways to succeed, though. While Theodore Roosevelt is known as The Trust Busting President, Taft ended up busting more trusts than Roosevelt. This is due to his active part in creating legislation and helping the national courts to uphold trust laws. By working with the courts, Taft added “formality and severity” to trust busting.
President Taft had many policy successes that greatly impacted the future of the United States. Of course, one being, his work in trust busting, but more importantly, two, his implementation of the 16th Amendment. This new amendment “permits the legislature to levy a federal income tax” (Romero 346). After the Supreme Court rejected multiple attempts at legislation, President Taft felt the only way to create a new source of government revenue was to follow the constitutional process of creating an amendment. This was one of Taft’s largest successes in the sense that he followed what he believed in to achieve the greater good of the United States.
President Taft also experienced some policy failures, one being: the creation of dollar diplomacy. Taft and his Secretary of State, Philander C. Knox, both believed that “the goal of diplomacy was to create stability and order abroad that would best promote American commercial interests” (Office of the Historian). This is exactly what they planned to do with dollar diplomacy. They encouraged investors to invest in foreign markets to increase the United States’ influence abroad. Investors hopped right on this. They were especially encouraged to invest in regions in which the U.S. has strategic interests in. While the senate refused to sign treaties, Taft encouraged private banks to independently invest. Many European countries had been imperial powers for much longer than the U.S. and held a significant advantage over the U.S. in several global markets. Taft and Knox believed that if American investors were firmly situated in these foreign markets economic powerhouses, such as Germany, would be unable to continue their dominance. This would also create better foreign relations and foreign policy. Unfortunately, this did not succeed. Taft’s dollar diplomacy failed to counteract economic and political instability, to realize profits for American business, and the United States had to send troops to protect American investments.
Each presidency has its own controversy. President Taft’s just happens to be not that exciting. While he was president, Taft’s largest controversy was the firing of Gifford Pinchot. The Ballinger-Pinchot scandal began when Colliers magazine accused Secretary of the Interior, Richard Ballinger, of shady work in Alaskan coal lands. It is a conflict of contrasting ideas about how to best use and conserve natural resources. The article charged that Ballinger improperly used his office to help the powerful interest groups illegally gain access to Alaskan coal fields. After Pinchot openly criticized Taft, he was fired by the president himself. Some believe that the president had no reason to fire Pinchot, of course creating controversy. This helped inspire the split of the Republican Party.
During Taft’s presidency, there were no National security issues. This does not include political or legislative problems. At the time of Taft’s four year presidency, the biggest issues he had to face included improving foreign relations and the United States economy. In terms of national security, improving foreign relations was a strategy to help prevent future threats.
Unfortunately we cannot gauge President Taft’s approval rating because approval ratings weren’t around until the 1930’s, after Taft’s presidency. Today, President William Taft is ranked the 24th best president of 44 (CBS news). His predicted approval ratings when he was in office were to range from 47% to 75%. Taft was a very average president. Nothing catastrophic happened during his presidency, and Taft didn’t accomplish much. His failed “dollar diplomacy” would have lowered his approval rating, but his success in trust busting would have raised it quite a bit.
William Taft’s presidency might not have been the joyride of others, but he helped shape American politics into what it is today. His hesitancy as a leader made it hard for him to accomplish great things. Still, Taft helped pass the 16th amendment and busted more trusts than the trust buster himself, President Roosevelt. Taft’s administrative skills and will to lead his government by the laws it created makes him an honorable president, despite his failures.
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