William Howard Taft: The Pressures on Him


cried in office
 
On at least two occasions during Taft's presidency, events reduced him to tears. Both, of course, involved politics, which Taft detested, and the 1912 campaign in particular. SEE BELOW

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From 1904 to 1909, Taft and then-President Theodore Roosevelt were the closest of friends. Roosevelt, who could probably have run and won in 1908, instead picked Taft as his successor. Four years later, they were at loggerheads -- for reasons still somewhat murky. It has been described as the "friendship that split the Republican party" 1.

Roosevelt re-entered politics in 1912. He contested the nomination with Taft and, when he failed to get it, ran on a third-party ticket against Taft. They split the Republican vote, thereby electing only the second Democrat in 52 years, Woodrow Wilson.


#1

The first incident occurred on January 1912. Frank Hitchcock, the Postmaster General, had managed Taft's 1908 campaign. But as 1912 dawned, there were reports that Hitchcock was actually in favor of Roosevelt. Taft's aide wrote 2a:

For some time he [Hitchcock] has been behaving in such a manner that every intimate friend of the President felt he should be kicked out of the Cabinet. ... [The President] is in an awful predicament. Hitchcock owns all the southern delegates, and if he lets Hitchcock out of his cabinet he is practically beaten for his renomination.
Matters came to a head in a Cabinet meeting 3a:
The President, although he did not believe the rumors, was none the less apprehensive. ... The President could be extremely impressive on the infrequent occasions when he was aroused; this time he stood up, at the end of the Cabinet table, and pointed his finger at the postmaster general.

"Frank!" he demanded. "Are you for me or against me?"

Hitchcock, his face crimson, also arose from his seat. "I am for you, Mr. President," he said.

On January 23, the President called in some newspapermen about 5 pm and gave them confidential assurances that Hitchcock was loyal. But it's not clear that all of the President's intimates agreed. Taft's aide wrote 2a:
[Presidential Secretary] Hilles almost wept when he heard of it. Later, just before seven, I went into the office, and Hilles was sitting by the President, looking like a thunder cloud, and the President's eyes were red, and it certainly looked as if he himself had been weeping a little.

#2

From beginning to end, the 1912 campaign was a trial for Taft. The necessity of attacking Roosevelt was especially troubling. "The ordeal would be so great that he could not hold back the tears after it was over" 3b.

On April 25, 1912, Taft put in a hard day of campaigning in Boston 3c:

The day ended, at last. The President had spoken to thousands. Hundreds of thousands had thronged to see him. He had cause for exhiliration, perhaps, in the cheers that had greeted him. But Taft was exhausted. He had strained his voice until it had become almost a whisper. Weariness and depression were the only sensations he felt as he was driven toward the waiting train. It was remarked, as he boarded his car, that he seemed very much shaken. Seibold of the World had been travelling with the official party and on boarding the special he went back to the President's car to ask some question. [sic] Taft was seated in one of the lounges, slumped over, with his head between his hands. As the journalist entered, he looked up.

"Roosevelt was my closest friend," he said brokenly. Then he could restrain himself no longer, and began to weep.

Cited Sources
  1. Manners, William. TR and Will: A Friendship that Split the Republican Party. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1969.
        
  2. Butt, Archibald W. Taft and Roosevelt: The Intimate Letters of Archie Butt, Military Aide. Garden City, NY: Doubleday (1930). Volume 1: pages 1-432. Volume 2: pages 433-862.
        
    a  p.819

    Comment: Butt, an Army officer, was military aide first to President Theodore Roosevelt and then to President William Taft. On April 14, 1912, Butt was at sea aboard the Titanic returning from a European vacation that Taft had insisted he take. President Taft later said: "When I heard that part of the ship's company had gone down, I gave up hope for the rescue of Major Butt, unless by accident. I knew that he would certainly remain on the ship's deck until every duty had been performed and every sacrifice made that properly fell on one charged, as he would feel himself charged, with responsibility for the rescue of others." Taft was correct. Butt did not survive the sinking.

  3. Pringle, Henry F. The Life and Times of William Howard Taft: A Biography. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1939.
        
    a  pp.763-764  b  p.766  c  pp.781-782

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