#27: Review of “William Howard Taft” by Jeffrey Rosen (1909-1913)

#27: Review of “William Howard Taft” by Jeffrey Rosen (1909-1913)

BIG question Taft made me consider:

How much weight should our/the people’s voice carry with the President? 

This underrated President turned Chief Justice of the SUPREME Court, William “Big Lub” Taft thought the people’s voice didn’t matter nearly as much as the Constitution’s. This is one of the main reasons you probably don’t know that much about Taft. He was not popular, especially following one of our most popular Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt. 

One thing central to knowing Taft: He wanted the Bench (to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), while his family wanted the Presidency (his wife, Nellie, while visiting the White House at age 17, told President Hayes (1877-81) that her visit convinced her that she wanted AND would one day marry a President. And by George she did!). Taft also got his wish serving as our 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1921-1930.

Taft LOVED being Chief Justice rising most mornings at 5 A.M. and getting a few hours of work in before breakfast around 8 A.M. While President, he routinely enjoyed a 12 oz. steak for breakfast (that’ll certainly help keep the pounds on!). 

80% of all the cases he presided over were unanimous compared with less than 40% today. Taft was instrumental in securing the funding from Congress to move the Supreme Court out of the Capital building and construct the Court’s own establishment where it resides today. Shoutout to JAR, Chan, and Owen when we got to see where the Supreme Court used to be in the Capital! Have you seen it?!

No talk of Taft seems to be complete without making a joke or two about his girth. Taft is our heaviest President to date topping the scale at 340 during his Presidency (USS NC had a custom-fitted bath installed just for him). It sounded like he was a stress eater, and boy did he pick a super stressful job, so I feel for the man. But check this out: as good as he was at adding pounds, he could shave em’ like the best of em’! He lost 70 lbs the year after his Presidency following the paleo diet (Grace asked me if that was even a thing back then or is that our present day characterization of his diet? I don’t know! Do you??) So Taft was a jolly fella. Once he visited Mexico while President. Reflecting on not getting assassinated (cuz I guess that’s something that all Presidents have to worry about! Another reason I’m glad I’m not President.) he remarked, “well…they sure would’ve had an easy target!” I wonder if he had a name for his belly. Shoutout to my good friend, David McCandless, who named his belly at McCallie, “Ms. Tina,” after our beloved cook who’s delicious grub was largely responsible for David’s weight. 

Lastly, Taft and Teddy had a rocky relationship. The book talked about how Taft thought of Teddy as one of his closest friends at one point (Taft served as Teddy’s Secretary of War), but then they ran against each other in the 1912 Election which led to their complete break. 

In conclusion, I think Taft’s underrated. I respect his focus on the Constitution at the expense of his popularity. I, like a lot of Americans at the time, don’t think I’d be super inspired by the guy especially compared to a Teddy or a Wilson, but I think he did a lot of good behind the scenes, and I love his hope that we, the people, should insist upon thoughtful public deliberation (what a prescient piece of wisdom for us today!). Shoutout to Mr. Caldwell who I distinctly remember teaching us Scouts of Troop #191 about how America was founded as a nation of laws not men. I think what he meant by this (forgive me if I’m misconstruing your meaning, Mr. C!) was that our desires come and go, so it’s better to organize a community upon more solid soil. Amen, brother!

5 fun facts about Taft from the book

  1. Taft was the only President to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court + President. The 2 highest positions in the nation! 
  2. Taft is credited with starting the 7th inning stretch and first-pitch in baseball. So cool!
  3. It took 3000 lbs/day of ice to fuel the AC in the White House while Taft resided there.
  4. He was an award-winning wrestler at Yale like Lincoln! Just not at Yale. 
  5. On the first night living in the White House, Mrs. Taft ventured into the Blue Room. Ok. So what? I’ll tell you so what! This is the exact room where President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing 4 million slaves!! 46 years prior. I got chills thinking about this!

1 thing I think Trump could learn from Teddy (I’m going to give this section a shot…let me know what you think!)

I think Trump could benefit from being less focused on appealing to the public and more on higher ideals like the constitution or common courtesies like Taft was. It’s hard in the day of the “imperial Presidency” (this is the term used to describe modern Presidents’ heightened power compared to the earlier ones. One thing I’ve read and heard people talk about is that Presidents, both Republican and Democrat, have mightily expanded their reach in the 20th and 21st century.) to, as voters and as the President, value simplicity. 

Further learning: 

  • They’re are nine Supreme Court Justices. I did not know this until looking it up. Whoops! I plan to read their short bios to see what I think about them here. Do you have a favorite/least favorite judge? 
  • This article on the life & work of J.I. Packer, a well-known theologian popular among evangelicals today, who passed away last week. For my Christian friends, you may be familiar with Packer. Reading the article encouraged me to trust Jesus more and read more Packer! For my friends who are not Christian, I think you’d still be moved by his sincere and lifelong devotion to something greater than himself. For all of us book lovers, the article includes the authors and books that most deeply impacted Packer. 
  • This cool looking book blog that gets experts to give their five Favorite books on different subjects ranging from history to politics and religion.

Shoutout from YOU:

My cuz, Buzz Carter, told me about Teddy: “BTW you know the grizzly killed (fun fact #1) was previously tied to a tree to ensure Teddy got his bear and all this was orchestrated from Bear Camp Store just outside of Rolling Fork, my home town.” SO COOL!! Thanks for sharing, Buzz. 

Next up, Woodrow Wilson!

Shoutout to my CPA students on this list!! PUMPED to get back learning w/ you soon,

HC3

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