William Howard Taft: Performs a Mental Status Examination at Ellis Island

Odds & Ends
There were two instances in which, as President, Taft was called upon to make a medical judgment. Had he disagreed with his medical advisors in both cases, he would have been right 100% of the time. As it was, his average was only 50%.

  • Taft at Ellis Island, October 1910 SEE BELOW

  • Taft and the 1912 pardon of Charles W. Morse, who "deserves a prominent place in the crowded gallery of American rogues." MORE
On October 18, 1910, President Taft and his military aide, Major Archie Butt, visited Ellis Island in New York. Here is Butt's account of the visit, as he wrote to his sister-in-law that evening 1a:
This morning we went to Ellis Island, where we tramped around for several hours -- without learning much, I fear, for this cut-and-dried inspection is never very illuminating.

We spent one hour in the room where special cases were being considered. I should hate, myself, to be forced to decide whether immigrants should be deported or whether some members of a family should be admitted or sent back. But I believe I would be able to do it with more [start page 549] intelligence than was shown this morning. One incident was very amusing. A Welshman with his seventeen-year-old daughter and five small children were brought in. He had a slight hernia, and it was therefore recommended that he be returned. The pathetic picture of the young girl taking care of all these young brothers and sisters rather appealed to the President. But the Commissioner, in order to make his case good, proceeded to ask a lot of stock questions to indicate that the immigrant was too ignorant to be admitted even if he had sound health. He asked him if he knew what form of government we lived under, and the immigrant said he did not know. He then asked him if we had a monarchial form, to which he also got an ignorant reply. The President, evidently thinking that even the majority of Americans did not know what "monarchial" meant, began to interrogate the immigrant himself, and the first question was:

"Do you know who is the chief of this country?"

And the reply was promptly given: "The President."

"Do you know who the President is?" asked the President.

"Yes, sir; Mr. Taft," answered the immigrant.

The President then turned, laughing, to the Commissioner, and said:

"Mr. Commissioner, you cannot convince me of this man's total ignorance. He seems to know more than a good many Americans I have met. I think you might admit this family."

Cited Sources
  1. 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.547

    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.

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